Dan Swinhoe (US) - US Elections pt. I: Tech Companies Funding the Obama Machine

With the US elections round the corner, Dan Swinhoe looks at which tech companies are helping fund the campaign

With the US elections hotting up before the big day next month, and polls putting Obama and Romney neck and neck, you can expect speeches and promises blurted out left, right and centre. But often the real tell of where priorities lie can be found in the contributors list.

The truth is, without the funds to keep the machine rolling, election campaigns seize up very quickly. Estimates put the cost of this year's contest at a record high of around $6 billion. The Super-PACs (Political Action Committees) have been receiving much of the press attention, due to them being allowed to accept donations of unlimited size from almost any source- individual, corporate or union- the only stipulation being they have to spend the money independently of candidates.

Which company funds which candidate is a tell-tale sign of who the companies predict will make life easier for them post-election. In June, we wrote how Obama and Romney would impact technology, and BO definitely seemed to come out on top. So unsurprisingly, as the man who has promised to protect science and tech funding, tech companies seem to be favouring the incumbent. According to Buzzfeed, tech people account for over $27 million of the $690 million Obama has raised so far.

According to Opensecrets Microsoft and Google are two of Obama's three biggest donators, the two companies' employees and related groups contributing around half a million dollars each to his cause. Lower down the list, telecoms company Comcast has given $260,000, while IBM has donated $200,000.

When speaking to Bloomberg, it seems the tech community are choosing Obama because they see him as man with a similar vision. "This is an industry that embraces people who talk about what the future is going to be," said Rusty Rueff, a Hillsborough, California-based consultant and investor in technology companies, and national co-chairman of the ‘Technology for Obama' group. "As we talk about what the president wants to do, there's not a lot of, ‘Woe is us.'" Instead, he said, "‘It's, ‘Great, let's make things better.'"

Obama's tech-support first appeared during his maiden presidential campaign. Google's Eric Schmidt was an early supporter, as was Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. After he was elected, Obama pinched several Googlers and other techies for an advisory board. Their vocal support in 2008 was only matched by the depths of their wallets; Microsoft and Google each gave $800,000, and IBM $500,000.

Even when it comes to Super PACs, tech companies are still donating large amounts to BO. Priorities USA Action has received $2 million apiece from Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chief executive of Dreamworks Animation and Irwin Jacobs, the founder of chipmaker Qualcomm. Medical technology companies are also chipping in, no doubt in response to Obama-care, with D.E. Shaw Research and Masimo donating hundreds of thousands.

Next week we'll look at the tech companies that have donated to the Romney election machine, but that list is far smaller than this one. In the meantime, tell us who you support and why. Does this trend continue with you?

Read part II on tech companies funding Romney here.

By Dan Swinhoe, Editorial Assistant, IDG Connect