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High-Tech Donations Tilt Toward Democrats

A clutch of Democratic Senators will be in California this week hobnobbing with executives from such high-tech giants as Google, Facebook and Symantec.

Billed as the National Innovation Conference, the event is sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is asking prospective hosts to shell out as much as $30,400, the maximum annual contribution allowed, to underwrite the event.

The Silicon Valley fundraiser on Friday and Saturday underscores the Democrats’ hope that the high-tech entrepreneurs, who in 2008 warmed to then-presidential contender Barack Obama’s pledge to push their issues, are still in a generous mood toward the party.

The high-tech and telecommunications sector has been favoring Democratic candidates in this election cycle, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

The industry’s political action committees have given $10.4 million to Democrats and $8 million to Republicans through the middle of summer. Companies such as Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., Hewlett Packard Co. and eBay Inc. are all showering more PAC donations on Democrats than on the GOP.

But industry officials suggest the donations are likely to shift before the elections, particularly if it becomes certain Republicans will make major gains in the midterm elections.

“They give a little bit more to the people in power,” said Josh Ackil, a Democratic high-tech lobbyist with the Franklin Square Group. But Ackil said the industry has a bipartisan bent and giving will likely become more even before the cycle is over.

Other tech insiders said the industry’s officials are watching the polls.

“There is a feeling of ‘Oh my gosh, there is a wave election upon us and we better be ready for the new kids on the block,'” said Ralph Hellmann, vice president of the Information Technology Industry Council.

Hellmann, who worked for former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said the high-tech sector has been frustrated with the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats on a number of issues. The research and development tax credit, a big deal for the industry, expired last year, and lawmakers have been unable to agree on how to extend it.

Furthermore, the administration has recommended plugging foreign tax loopholes to pay for new tax incentives, a proposal that is opposed by high-tech outfits with global operations.

The directive to balance out company giving has been coming directly from the CEOs, Hellmann said. Indeed, the top brass of some high-tech companies have been spreading around their wealth when it comes to individual political giving.

Take Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, who this year contributed to top Republican leaders including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.). He also gave $5,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Gates also donated to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Microsoft’s PAC has given a little more than half of its contributions to Democrats, a slightly smaller percentage than the last election cycle but more than 2006 when it favored Republicans.

Google’s PAC has given almost 60 percent of its contributions to Democrats, about the same percentage as in the last election cycle.

In addition, three top Google executives — Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products, Vinton Cerf, executive vice president, and Laura DeBonis, business manager — gave the maximum of $30,400 to the Democratic National Committee this year.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and other company executives participated in an NRSC fundraiser this summer, a company official said. But the contributions for that event have not yet been reported to the FEC.

Like Gates, Schmidt has been bipartisan in his giving. He contributed in June to Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ohio Senate candidate Rob Portman (R).

A Google spokeswoman said the company does not comment on its political giving.

The topsy-turvy season has put some groups in uncomfortable positions. For example both CTIA and the U.S. Telecom Association gave to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in July, less than a month before she was upset in her primary by tea-party-backed candidate Joe Miller. Murkowski has launched a write-in campaign and has solicited help from K Street.

One Republican Senate candidate, Carly Fiorina, is not getting much help from her former employer, Silicon Valley giant Hewlett Packard.

HP’s PAC, which gave $5,000 to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in 2009, has made no contributions to Fiorina, who was forced to resign as CEO of Hewlett Packard in 2005. Only a handful of HP employees have made individual contributions to the GOP candidate, who is locked in a tight race with Boxer.

While some high-tech executives will be watching the polls to determine where their dollars go, another Silicon Valley giant, Intel Corp., has opted not to use elections as a gauge for support.

The company has instituted a policy of splitting its PAC contributions evenly between the two party’s candidates regardless of the outcome in November.

“We don’t focus on who’s in power,” said Peter Cleveland, Intel’s vice president for global public policy. Cleveland is a former staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who received $2,500 from Intel’s PAC in June.

Cleveland, who implemented the policy when he was hired 20 months ago, said in making contributions, the company evaluates lawmakers’ voting records and positions on relevant issues.

Through the end of July, about 57 percent of Intel’s contributions went to Democrats, a number that will even out by the end of the cycle, Cleveland said.

But the company does not ignore those in a position to make decisions. In July, Intel made a $5,000 contribution to House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), who would be in line to become Speaker if Republicans win control of the House.

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