Rant: Tech should stay out of political donations

Companies should make a pact to stop putting money where politicians’ mouths are

Politico reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook will co-host a fundraising event with House Speaker Paul Ryan next week, suggesting this is part of the company’s attempts to stay tight with the Republican party. The strategy, it says, is complicated by Apple’s reportedly recent distancing itself from presidential candidate Donald Trump. But a bigger question looms above all of this manoeuvring and glad-handing: what on earth are technology companies doing by aligning themselves with political figures?

Companies tend to play down political donations by sometimes paying both major parties and sometimes the spending comes from wealthy individuals within the company. But that doesn’t take away from the main point here: it’s a murky practice that shouldn’t go on. One person, one vote is at the heart of the democratic system. By providing significant sums in funding political interests the tech sector is effectively gaming that system in order to win favour and shade influence.

Almost as bad, many tech companies stand accused of not being transparent in their disclosure of donations, often given from so called PACs – political action committees. Perhaps they think it’s unimportant as the sums donated are trivial compared to their vast treasure troves, but contributions can run to millions of dollars, not including lobbying spending.

At the very least this practice casts doubts on the motives of corporate donors and politicians. If, say, a security software company donates to a politician who then becomes an influential purse holder and decision maker on cybersecurity, how can we know that person is acting out of conviction or with one eye on the desires of his or her benefactor?

Of course businesses lining the pockets of politics is nothing new but technology, as befits its reputation for dynamism, innovation and change, should take a leading role here. One action might be a simple concord among the rich and powerful tech elite. And that is that it stops here - no more political donations.  


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