(TNS) -- Austin venture capitalist Jimmy Treybig and tech CEO John Price both describe themselves as political independents.
This presidential election cycle, Treybig wrote a $2,700 check to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, while Price gave $100 to Republican contender Ted Cruz.
Both say their contributions had nothing to do with party affiliations. Rather, they say, they put their money behind the candidate they think will best support tech companies and job creation.
“Whether they’re a Democrat or Republican, that doesn’t matter to me,” said Treybig, who built Tandem Computers in Silicon Valley and has been a venture investor in Austin for nearly two decades. “I support the person who I think cares about people and cares about jobs.”
This year’s election cycle has divided voters nationwide, and Central Texas’ high-tech community is no exception. In Austin, unlike Silicon Valley, tech executives are generally known for avoiding political affiliations. Many prefer to describe themselves as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” rather than aligning with a particular party.
Still, an American-Statesman analysis of donation data in the 2016 election cycle showed that among Austin tech workers, there are clear favorites. Clinton raised $83,814 in direct donations — more than any other presidential candidate. While Clinton’s popularity in the Austin tech industry mirrors donation patterns for the city at large, where she has raised $816,905 so far, Republican candidates are making inroads in an industry traditionally perceived as closely aligned with Democrats.
Cruz raised $46,612 from Austin tech workers, the most of any Republican candidate. In total, Cruz raised nearly $800,000 from Austin-area residents. And former Republican candidate Rand Paul, known for his libertarian leanings, did especially well in Austin’s tech community, raising $14,123, the second-most donations of any Republican candidate so far. Donors who contribute directly to a candidate face limits of $2,700 per person.
This data is based on Federal Election Commission reports filed through Feb. 10 from Austin-area donors who contributed to individual presidential campaign accounts in the 2016 election cycle. But it could be incomplete — candidates are supposed to seek the names of employers, but there is no requirement that donors divulge their employment. It doesn’t include data on donations to political action committees or super PACs.
Does tech equal Democrats?
The longtime perception is that tech industries back Democratic candidates, with most of the anecdotal evidence stemming from Silicon Valley. For instance, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt campaigned for President Barack Obama in 2008. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is also a regular donor to Democratic candidates, and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has hosted Democratic fundraisers.
A recent Bloomberg analysis of donations from Silicon Valley tech firms seemed to back this up: Democrats raised $3.82 million versus $2.28 million for Republicans. In Austin, Democrats also have the fundraising edge among tech workers, raising $124,508 versus Republicans’ $86,883.
“The perception that tech companies and those who work in the tech industry tend to lean Democratic is justified,” said Melinda Jackson, an associate professor of political science at San Jose State University. That can partly be explained by demographics. Technology workers skew younger and tend to reside in liberal cities such as San Francisco and Austin, Jackson said.
Some tech firms or CEOs lean more Republican than others. The Bloomberg story found that employees at companies such as Intel Corp., Yahoo and Oracle Corp. donated more to Republican candidates and to the Republican party. Larry Ellison, executive chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle Corp., has given $3 million to groups that support conservative candidates, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Democrats did better among workers at Google, Facebook and Apple Inc., Bloomberg reported. An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that donors in the “electronics manufacturing and equipment” sector who contributed to a presidential candidate did give about $500,000 more to Democrats.
The biggest donors within the tech industry mostly reside in Silicon Valley, with the only Austinite making Forbes’ list of “The Most Generous Tech Titans in Politics” being Michael Dell, based on donations in the 2016 election cycle.
But candidates have had success raising money from lower-level tech workers in Austin. Clinton attracted dollars from a wide swath of tech workers, from small Internet startups to Dell Inc. She received more donations from Dell’s Austin-based workforce than any other presidential candidate.
Still, Democrat Bernie Sanders is winning the microcontribution war, securing the greatest number of individual contributions of any presidential candidate: 404. But his average contribution was only $89. His total haul of $35,894 from the tech industry put him in third place.
For Republican tech donors, Cruz was the obvious choice. Political experts say that’s not surprising given Cruz’s popularity in Texas generally. In Silicon Valley, according to the Bloomberg article, Republicans were donating more to candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
“It doesn’t totally surprise me that in place like Texas you have a fair amount of support for Ted Cruz,” Jackson said. His campaign has been praised for its digital efforts, with a popular app that encourages supporters to volunteer or donate by awarding points.
Rand Paul wasn’t exactly a fundraising powerhouse in Austin. According to data analyzed by the American-Statesman, he raised $106,909 in the city at large, placing him fifth in total donations to Republican presidential candidates. But within the tech industry he was the second-most popular Republican to donate to.
Paul’s strong showing highlights a link between tech workers and libertarians, a political philosophy that emphasizes limited government. (Though Paul ran as a Republican, he is known for hewing closer to the Libertarian Party.)
Many libertarians say there is an inherent connection between people who work in tech jobs and a resistance to government regulation or interference. Pat Dixon, an engineering consultant who was chair of the Libertarian Party of Texas for 10 years, said in the tech industry people are “accustomed to doing things quickly, getting businesses off the ground quickly.” Dixon said. “If you have a computer … you can make a product and get it out there. It is very low regulatory burden typically.”
Tech workers appreciate the “simplicity of logic” behind libertarianism, said Robert “Rock” Howard, a former chairman of the Travis County Libertarian Party. But he also noted that of all the people who endorse the libertarian philosophy, tech workers probably have the most money. “Therefore they are one of the more consistent sources of funding for the party at all levels,” Howard said.
The Paul campaign sought to harness this support. “The campaign had a lot of friends in the Austin tech community,” said 27-year-old Vincent Harris, the Austin-based chief digital strategist for the Paul campaign, who is known as a bit of a digital prodigy, with Politico Magazine publishing a lengthy feature story on him last summer. The Paul campaign set up its digital operations inside local tech incubator Capital Factory.
Harris said Paul fundraised in Austin and San Francisco several times last year, and that reaching out to the tech community was a deliberate strategy. “The tech community is one that Republicans don’t traditionally reach out to,” Harris said. “I think they are scared of them.” He recalled a time when he spoke at a conference of Texas Republicans, and someone asked him a question about why he used Google in campaigning. “They said, ‘Aren’t they in bed with Democrats?’” Harris said. “That kind of mindset is what our base a lot of times still believes — ‘Oh my gosh, everyone is so liberal.’”
Price, who is CEO of Austin software-maker Vast, said he isn’t interested in political labels. He just wants to support the candidate with the best plan for tackling issues that matter to him.
“I care about tech startups and small business, because I believe small businesses are the growth engine for our economy,” he said. “To say you’re a Republican or Democrat right now, it’s meaningless. I’m looking for who will reduce regulation to stimulate the economy and increase small business growth.”
Price said he was drawn to Cruz by his digital marketing campaign, which he described as delving deep into business policy. “That’s what got me. I was like, ‘If those are the issues you’re going to drive forward on, I will support you.’”
©2016 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.