Election 2020: who's winning the Silicon Valley money race?

Julia Carrie Wong and Peter Andringa
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren’s crusade against Silicon Valley has not dented her popularity among employees of major tech companies, according to the latest campaign fundraising filings. The progressive Democratic senator and her fellow leftist candidate, the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, are outraising their more centrist rivals among tech workers in the presidential campaign, a Guardian analysis found.

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While Sanders and Warren are campaigning for the Democratic nomination on promises to crack down on corporate power, the senator from Massachusetts has made antitrust action against big tech one of her signature issues. She put up an anti-tech billboard in San Francisco, trolled Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg with critical ads on his own platform, and even announced on Tuesday that she will reject contributions greater than $200 from tech executives – the kind of treatment that liberals usually reserve for more traditional corporate bogeymen, such as fossil fuel executives or lobbyists.

And yet Warren has raised nearly $160,000 from employees of one of her top rhetorical targets – Google – since the start of her presidential campaign, more than any other presidential candidate, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings for individual candidate committees for the first nine months of 2019. The analysis does not include political action committees.

Sanders has raked in more than $1m from nearly 3,200 software engineers across the entire industry since launching his presidential bid. Warren came in second among software engineers, with $660,000 raised from 1,400 people, followed by Andrew Yang ($370,000 from 850 donors), a long shot candidate who has appealed to techies with an issue portfolio focusing on automation, data privacy and a universal basic income.

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Google employees donated the most of all the large tech companies the Guardian looked at, with 1,050 employees donating about $640,000 to the various presidential candidates. The company’s workforce has a reputation for political engagement and internal debate. While Warren raised the most from Googlers, Sanders had the most individual donors (263 giving about $110,000). Pete Buttigieg, a midwestern mayor who has staked out a more centrist position, followed Warren with about $125,000 from 192 Googlers.

The donations skewed heavily to the Democratic primary, but 22 Googlers donated more than $5,000 to Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Warren and Sanders were the top two choices for donors at a number of other major tech companies, including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. Sanders did particularly well among Amazon employees, raising nearly $60,000 from 247 donors. The Vermont senator has been a major critic of Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, even naming a bill targeting corporate employers whose workers rely on food stamps or other federal benefits after him.

At least 75 of Sanders’s Amazon donors appear to be workers from the company’s vast network of warehouses and fulfillment centers or from its grocery chain Whole Foods. One Georgia resident who has made 18 small donations to Sanders listed his occupation as a “wage slave”; another listed himself as a “slave”. Altogether these Amazon workers have donated more than $17,000 to Sanders.

The campaign finance filings do not show Bezos donating to any candidates. His parents have donated $2,800 apiece to Michael Bennet, a senator from Colorado.

Sanders also performed best among gig economy workers who identified themselves as drivers for Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Postmates, DoorDash or GrubHub, with more than $5,800 in donations from 34 drivers. (DoorDash chief executive Tony Xu, who has faced harsh criticism for his company’s controversial tipping practices, has donated $2,800 to Buttigieg.)

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Facebook was the biggest exception to the Sanders/Warren juggernaut, with Buttigieg raking in nearly $38,000 from 53 employees, followed by $28,000 from 41 employees for California senator Kamala Harris. Zuckerberg has shown particular antipathy toward Warren, saying in leaked remarks that her election would “suck” for the company.

Buttigieg and Zuckerberg attended Harvard at the same time, and Zuckerberg visited the South Bend mayor during his 2017 tour of the country, filming Facebook live videos as Buttigieg drove the billionaire around town. While neither Zuckerberg nor his No 2, Sheryl Sandberg, have donated to any presidential candidates this cycle, Buttigieg has garnered donations from a number of high-level Facebook executives, including Elliot Schrage, vice-president of special projects, and David Marcus, who is leading the company’s effort to launch a cryptocurrency.