The rise of Silicon Valley as a financial political force, in charts and graphics

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent
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Million dollar counties

(Yahoo News/CrowdPac)

Silicon Valley has become a major source of political donations in recent years, as tech companies and the men and women made rich by them have grown more interested in politics.

But when exactly did political giving from the Valley really start to take off? Yahoo News reached out to Crowdpac, a for-profit company that analyzes political giving, to try to help us answer that question. And Crowdpac came back with a map — not just of the Bay Area, but of the entire United States — that tracks giving by presidential year from every county in the country going back to 1980.

Crowdpac got the numbers from a database compiled by co-founder Adam Bonica, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University. Bonica's database is a collection of over 100 million political contributions made between 1979 and 2012 in local, state and federal elections.

You can zoom in on the map with your mouse. When you do that in the Bay Area, you can see that there were two big jumps in the three counties that are home to much of the Silicon Valley elite: Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco. The first jump came during the 2000 election cycle, on the heels of the first tech bubble, and was most noticeable in San Mateo County, where political giving went from $2.4 million in 1996 to $33.8 million four years later. That made it the third most donation-heavy of all the counties in the country.

San Mateo has stayed pretty flat since then, sending $36.7 million toward political causes in 2012.

In San Francisco and Santa Clara, it's a different story. Those two counties saw big jumps in giving in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Then in 2012 they made a quantum leap. Giving from San Francisco County residents nearly tripled, from $56.1 million to $142.2 million. And giving from Santa Clara, the center of Silicon Valley, more than quintupled, increasing from $36.8 million in 2008 to $155.9 million in 2012. That's a massive leap, and puts the county in fourth place nationwide among top-giving counties.

Indeed, both Santa Clara and San Francisco counties are now among the top five counties for political giving across the country. They still trail Los Angeles County, New York County and Harris County, Texas. New York and Los Angeles have been No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, during every presidential election going back to 1980 — with the exceptions of 2004 and 2012, when they reversed places and Los Angeles was No. 1 and New York was No. 2. Harris County, which includes oil-rich Houston, has been in the top five going back to 1980 as well.

If you count Santa Clara and San Francisco together as homes to Silicon Valley money, the valley was a bigger factor financially in 2012 than anywhere else in America except for Los Angeles. Factor in nearby San Mateo — and perhaps Alameda, Marin and even Contra Costa counties — and the number grows larger still. (Of course, Los Angeles also has contiguous high-giving neighbors in Orange and San Diego counties, complicating the comparison.)

Regardless of how you slice it, it's clear that Silicon Valley in 2012 exploded as one of the top centers of the political donor universe.

One important note: The "All Parties" category is more than a simple breakdown of Republican and Democratic Party giving. It also includes giving to causes and groups that are not necessarily affiliated with a political party. Take the case of San Francisco County residents, who gave $142 million total in 2012, but only $40 million of that to Democrats. Did San Francisco County residents give the other $102 million to Republicans? No, of course not. The most likely explanation, Crowdpac said, is California’s public referendum system, which draws large amounts of political giving each election. For example, in 2012, Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist, donated around $30 million to a group called Californians to Close the Out-of-State Corporate Tax Loophole, according to Crowdpac's data.

Have fun digging into the data in the map yourself to see other trends, and check out the slideshow, which lists the 10 highest-giving counties from every election since 1980.