Silicon Valley Alarms Are Ringing: Elizabeth Warren Rejects Tech Sector Donations Over $200

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Silicon Valley has suddenly become hypervigilant about its one-time Democratic allies.

Yes, it’s been evident since the beginning of the run-up to the 2020 elections that the Democratic party has done all it can to steer clear of Big Oil. The No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge asks candidates to pledge not to take contributions over $200 from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, and PACs. Instead, candidates rise above the mud to prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.

The Dems have thumbed their noses at Big Pharma, too, and tensions are high because lowering drug prices would change the way the industry does business. The New York Times has reported that Democrats’ ideas include allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices; putting a cap on Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket drug costs; requiring manufacturers to disclose and justify any significant price increases; and, outlawing tactics used by brand-name drug makers to delay the development and marketing of lower-cost versions of their products.

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But when Elizabeth Warren announced that she will refuse campaign donations from some tech sector individuals and companies, a Silicon Valley alarm rang: how could the Democrats foresake their longtime Big Tech pals?

Could it really be that tech’s influence on Democratic politics is waning? If Elizabeth Warren has her way, it will be.

On her campaign website, Warren decries…

“… outside organizations (that) spent a whopping $1.4 billion on elections, and nearly $181 million of those funds remain untraceable because they were spent by dark money organizations… In my campaign, I’ve pledged not to take money from federal lobbyists or PACs of any kind. Not to take contributions over $200 from fossil fuel or big pharma executives.”

“I’m not going to take any contributions over $200 from executives at big tech companies, big banks, private equity firms, or hedge funds. And when I’m the Democratic nominee for president, I’m not going to change a thing in how I run my campaign: No PACs. No federal lobbyists. No special access or call time with rich donors or big dollar fundraisers to underwrite my campaign.”

What? No lobbyists or rich donors having anytime access?

Up until recently, tech companies were able to make her a personal contribution at the legal maximum — and what many candidates see as paltry — $2,800. Big Tech has not-so-secretly hoped that she’d ease her strict position on what’s known as “bundlers” — those high-dollar campaign fundraisers.

Nope. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign will no longer accept contributions of more than $200 from executives at certain tech companies or financial firms, which is consistent with her lifelong pursuit to uphold the rights of the consumer.

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Fundraising Tallies: Elizabeth vs. Goliath

According to fundraising disclosures filed in mid-October, Warren brought in $121,339 from employees from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google from the start of July through the end of September. Hypocrisy? Not really, as her plan for campaign donation limits will apply retroactively. That means her campaign will refund donations from people who are in excess of the $200 level. That’s her absolute top donation for a publicly disclosed contribution.

Politico reports that Warren raised $24.6 million overall in the third quarter of 2019, trailing only Bernie Sanders among candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Warren does not hold private fundraising events, and, instead, raises her money online. Individual tech industry donors, who seemed to earn their way more from white-collar work than from hands-on warehouse or retail tech employment, donated between $28 and $615 to Warren in 2019.

Hmmm. Maybe the cry to dismantle Big Tech influence resonates with the little people in that industry.

Image retrieved from YouTube

Last May, the Warren team placed an eye-opening billboard in San Francisco ahead of her visit to that city. Her public distaste for Big Tech hasn’t actually seemed to put a damper on tech donations. Indeed, it’s remarkable that tech donations have been robust at the same time that Warren has critiqued major technology firms, saying that their reach and dominance in the marketplace was excessive and should be dismantled so that more fairness and competition can emerge.

It seems as if the Senator from Massachusetts is connecting with these techies through her policy proposals rather than promises.

What an interesting notion.

The Solution to Bad Speech is More Speech

Image retrieved from Facebook

Warren’s small-dollar donation approach may be just the thing to appeal to Democratic voters in the upcoming primaries. The recently leaked Mark Zuckerberg internal talk in which he admitted that Warren could pose an existential threat to Big Tech companies like Facebook was startling and the start of a charged and active public dispute.

Last week, Warren tweeted that her campaign “intentionally” published a Facebook ad with false claims to “see if it’d be approved.” The fake ad said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had endorsed President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.

Warren posted the ad amid criticism the company has faced about its decision to allow politicians to run ads containing blatant disinformation.

Attacking Tech May Be the Approach that Propels Warren to the Front of the Pack

Biden’s campaign told POLITICO that the former vice president is broadly concerned about economic concentration and would “aggressively” use antitrust law and other tools to ensure that “all corporations” do right by their workers and customers. But Biden perceives Warren’s singling out of tech as misguided and doesn’t think a president should tell antitrust enforcers which companies to go after, his campaign said.

A close adviser said Biden’s camp is reluctant to become drawn into what it views as Warren’s “weird litmus test.”

Part of Warren’s dismissal of Big Tech has to do with her proposed “ultra-millionaire tax” on the top 0.1% of wealthiest households. Such a shift in the way that the US treats the wealthiest-of-the-wealthy and would become the funding impetus for many of her policies, including universal childcare, universal pre-kindergarten, and free public college tuition.

As a tax on wealth, not just income, individuals with a net worth of $50 million or more would pay a 2% tax on every dollar of net worth beyond $50 million and a 3% tax on every dollar of net worth beyond $1 billion. The tax would affect just 75,000 US households but generate $2.75 trillion over a decade, according to independent estimates.

Who are some of these individuals who would be affected? Let’s see.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook had a net worth of about $68.2 billion in August 2019, making him the 5th-richest person in the world, according to Business Insider.

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s net worth is estimated to be $625.37 million.

With a reported net worth of $53.5 billion, Alphabet CEO Larry Page is the 8th-richest person in the world. Alphabet president Sergey Brin is number 9, with a reported net worth of $52.1 billion.

“She isn’t doing high-dollar fundraisers or call-time. Because of this policy, Elizabeth is able to spend her time making the case for her plan to break up Big Tech and put power back in the hands of the American people — whether it’s a billboard in the heart of Silicon Valley or taking on Amazon in Long Island City,” her campaign told Recode.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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