Sheryl Sandberg Whips Out the Checkbook

Theodore Schleifer
August 30, 2021

During the heat of the 2020 presidential primary, I would sometimes joke with Democratic bundlers about the dilemma they might face if presented with a max-out check from one of Silicon Valley’s most generous liberal donors. I was talking, of course, about Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer who, just one presidential election cycle ago, was popular enough to be considered for Treasury Secretary in a Hillary Clinton administration. Oh how times have changed. Sandberg was filleted by the left (and by Clinton!) as Facebook careened from scandal to scandal; these days, a $2,800 Sandberg donation would probably not be worth the headline risk for a presidential aspirant talking tough on tech. Indeed, Sandberg didn’t donate a single cent to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign or the Democratic National Committee during the last election cycle—the first time the Facebook billionaire hadn’t financially backed the party’s nominee since Al Gore in 2000—which perfectly crystallizes the predicament in which she finds herself.

That’s why a few recent headlines caught my eye. Even as her reputation suffered, Sandberg has kept up a steady stream of political donations, primarily to women running for Congress or the Senate. Last month, she made another $100,000 donation to Women Vote!, a super PAC allied with EMILY’s List, matching the amount she gave the group in 2020 and 2018. It’s a fairly safe deal for all parties: Sandberg, after all, remains a feminist icon for Lean In (despite some critical reappraisal of the book over the past few years).She is also training her checkbook locally: Sandberg is the money behind a new tax proposal in her hometown of Menlo Park that one of you flagged for me. These are the sort of donations that aren’t going to generate high-profile blowback, serving as a way for Sandberg to remain involved in the causes she cares about without becoming what every mega-donor fears: the story itself.