Over the last two years, the dominant theme in Silicon Valley politics has been the backlash to San Francisco-style liberalism. Sure, your median techie still worries about climate change, H-1B visas, and the democratic threat of Trumpism, but we all know that the political culture of tech is not shaped by the median software engineer at Google. Fairly or not, it is leaders like Elon Musk who cast the industry’s image, inveighing against the “wokes,” vaccines, criminals, and the local government officials who won’t let him hang a giant, unsecured ‘X’ from the roof of Twitter HQ.
Of course, tech billionaires tweeting their feelings is one thing—it’s much more complex for them to operationalize their wealth into political influence. Which is why I have been awaiting the ’24 presidential candidates’ super PAC filings, which blessedly arrived this week. Who are the members of the technorati supporting? And who has been sitting things out?
Where Is Larry? Where Is Elon?
There were some surprises. Jan Koum, the billionaire founder of WhatsApp, just made the largest political donation of his life in the form of a $5 million bet on Nikki Haley and her super PAC. Koum has not traditionally been a political guy, but I wrote last year that since he stepped away from Facebook—the 47-year-old is now listed on F.E.C. forms, in the ultimate flex, as “retired”—he seems to have caught the bug. Last cycle, he put $2 million into an AIPAC-aligned super PAC, his first check of significance. Most of his giving has coalesced around Israel issues, but the donation to Haley’s super PAC suggests that his politics may be expanding to a general affinity for hawkish pols like the former U.N. Ambassador. In fact, Koum was the Haley super PAC’s single biggest donor this year, followed by another Silicon Valley heavy: Tim Draper. As I reported earlier in the past, Draper has served as Haley’s emissary to the industry, bringing her around the Valley for a series of events. Draper put $1.3 million into her super PAC, too.