One afternoon earlier this month, a source sent me a note on Signal asking an unexpected question. They wanted my take on an invitation they had received to meet with a political group that had a name so inscrutable that it sounded like a new moonshot from Google X: The Institute for Political Innovation. Had I heard of it? I cover the world of Silicon Valley fundraising pretty closely, but no, I apparently was not read in on the Peninsula’s latest, greatest innovation. I’d figure it out and get back to him. After all, with a name like that, how lame could this be?
But the group, whose strategy hasn’t been reported, is one of the most ambitious, if quixotic, political attempts to come through Silicon Valley—a Grand Unified Theory to fix everything that is wrong with American politics. With heavyweight co-chairs including Reid Hoffman and members of the Sobrato family, the billionaire real estate dynasty, the Institute has all the right connections as it sets out to raise $100 million over the next year to run ballot initiatives and legislative campaigns in up to a dozen states across the country. Next week, the group will be introduced at a private event to some of Silicon Valley’s biggest donors, who, in the throes of Donald Trump’s takeover of the G.O.P., are grappling with whether they want to invest even more in tackling the fundamental problems in American democracy—or cut and run altogether.
The group is not based in Silicon Valley, but make no mistake, it is very much of Silicon Valley, with its earnest recitations of Harvard Business School papers, its preachy nonpartisanship and its bedrock belief in the power of incentives. After all, there’s nothing that Silicon Valley’s handymen love more than a design flaw.