The technology industry has steadily expanded its role in the electoral process over the past decade, from building social networks where candidates disseminate messages to spearheading nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts. But its role as a fundraising juggernaut, almost exclusively for liberal politicians, may have hit a fever pitch this election cycle.
The most striking contribution came last month, when Dustin Moskovitz, a tech billionaire and Facebook co-founder, pledged US$20 (NZ$28m) to political groups that support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Moskovitz discussed the contribution with CNBC over the weekend, reiterating that he and his wife, Cari Tuna, were compelled to donate after Republicans officially chose Donald Trump as their nominee.
"I think it's apparent to every American that this is a very special election. The stakes are extremely high," Moskovitz told CNBC. Moskovitz's contribution made headlines in part because he is a relative novice to political donations. Despite his wealth and connections, Moskovitz is not particularly well known beyond industry circles.
Nevertheless, the donation catapults Moskovitz and Tuna into the upper echelons of political contributors this election cycle, a list that includes fellow billionaires and longtime influencers Sheldon Adelson, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros and Silicon Valley hedge-fund manager Thomas Steyer. Assuming the full $20 million is donated prior to the election, Moskovitz and Tuna would rank among the top 10 individual contributors this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Moskovitz and Tuna did not respond to requests for comment.
Moskovitz amassed his wealth as one of four Harvard undegraduates who, in 2004, created the primitive version of what was then called "The Facebook." He stayed with the social network through November 2008, according to LinkedIn. He then started Asana with fellow Facebook employee Justin Rosenstein. The company makes business software that helps teams communicate and track progress on work projects. Asana has raised $88.2 million from venture capital investors to date, including $50 million in March, according to Crunchbase, an online database that tracks venture deals.
For her part, Tuna runs the couple's philanthropic efforts. To that end, she serves as president of their foundation, Good Ventures, which has given money to causes that range from animal welfare to scientific research to criminal justice reform.
Moskovitz and Tuna wrote in a blog post on the website Medium in September that political donations were not initially part of their philanthropic plan. But they cast the race between Trump and Clinton as more than a decision of politics, and one that has "become a referendum on who we want to be - as individuals, as a nation and as a society."
The pair also expressed reluctance at using their wealth to influence the democratic process.
Silicon Valley's increased influence in the political process has not come without scrutiny. It's no secret that Silicon Valley leans far left. Its epicenter is the liberal bastion of San Francisco. Wealthy tech executives were big donors to President Barack Obama's campaigns and have shown similar financial support for Clinton.
The cozy and lucrative relationship between tech industry titans and liberal politicians has raised questions about bias, particularly at firms that increasingly control the flow of information through digital channels. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday about a debate within Facebook as to whether some of Trump's posts should be classified as hate speech and removed from the site. Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, determined in December that Trump's words should not be censored.
The Valley's political alignment is perhaps most evident in that there are comparatively few Republicans who openly support Trump. Virtually alone in that category is billionaire investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who spoke at the Republican National Convention and recently donated $1.25 million to Trump's campaign.