Donors and political action committees affiliated with Amazon.com Inc. and other Big Tech companies are throwing their money behind former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign, part of a historic trend of fundraising support to Democratic candidates over the past several decades, experts say.
The companies are prohibited from donating directly to campaigns, but donors associated with them, including the companies' employees and PACs, can give money to candidates. Donors affiliated with Google parent Alphabet Inc. have given a total of $1.7 million to the candidate committee of the Democratic contender, according to federal election data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.
Amazon was another Big Tech contributor to Biden, with its affiliated donors giving $749,410, while Facebook Inc.'s affiliated donors contributed $576,988. Apple Inc.-affiliated donors contributed $537,630, and affiliated donors of Microsoft Corp. gave $848,667. None of the Big Tech companies' donors were among the top contributors to U.S. President Donald Trump's candidate committee in the 2020 election cycle.
All of the contributions were made as of Sept. 21 when the Federal Election Commission released the data. The next round of Federal Election Commission figures is due Oct. 20. Contributions to the candidate committee are separate from donations to a candidate's campaign committee and contributions from super PACs.
Donations from Big Tech-affiliated donors highlight the industry's preference for Democrats overall, experts say. And that trend is likely to continue into 2021 and beyond, regardless of any political agenda, said Ed Mills, Washington policy analyst for Raymond James, in an interview.
"Generally speaking, California is viewed as a Democratic stronghold, and Silicon Valley is a stronghold within the stronghold," Mills said. "Democrats have looked at the tech industry as a way of providing themselves a potential electoral benefit through the democratization of information."
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The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet also did not respond. A Microsoft spokesperson said the contributions of its affiliated donors to Biden are "made by employees in their personal capacity."
The findings come as Biden and Trump seek to increase spending ahead of the November election, with both candidates hoping to lock in more money to fund political advertisements and other initiatives designed to sway voters. As of Sept. 21, Biden held the fundraising lead with $466 million in the bank, ahead of Trump's $325 million, according to CRP.
Biden also saw a fundraising boost after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, said Brett Kappel, an attorney with Harmon Curran in Washington, D.C., who advises trade associations and corporate PACs, in an interview.
And the companies' PACs and employees are likely to continue throwing money behind their favored candidate between now and the election, Kappel said.
"This is a highly, highly politicized election where people are extremely activated, and they feel compelled to contribute," Kappel said. "We're going to have 60% of registered voters actually vote, and that's considered really high."
Biden's financial support from internet industry donors coincides with the sector's historic trend of donating large sums to Democrats. According to CRP, the internet sector has contributed $26.8 million to Democrats in the 2020 election cycle, up from $24 million in the 2016 election cycle and $9.2 million in the 2012 cycle.
The internet sector's contributions to Republicans are dramatically lower. In the 2020 cycle, the sector has contributed $3.4 million to Republicans, compared to nearly $6 million in the 2016 cycle and $3.7 million in 2012.
The biggest spender in the internet sector is Alphabet, whose donors and PACs thus far spent a total of $8.7 million on political candidate and party contributions in the 2020 election cycle, 91.8% of which went to Democrats while about 8% went to Republicans, according to CRP. The second-biggest spender in the internet sector was Amazon, whose donors have spent $5 million on political candidate and party contributions in the 2020 cycle, with 82.8% going to Democrats and 16.5% to Republicans. Facebook was the third-largest spender among the Big Tech firms, with a total of $2.7 million in contributions during the 2020 election cycle, 88.6% of which went to Democrats and 11.2% going to Republicans.
Biden's vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, is also helping to attract donations from the tech industry, experts say. Top contributors to Biden's candidate committee stem largely from California, where Harris was attorney general and cultivated relationships with Big Tech companies including Facebook. Top contributors to Biden's candidate committee include the University of California, whose donors contributed $1.4 million, and the state of California, whose donors provided $440,047. Stanford University donors contributed $482,495.
"I do think some of the tech money is coming home for Kamala Harris, more so than maybe even than Joe Biden," said Michael Hettinger, founder of the Hettinger Strategy Group, a government relations firm, in an interview.
Harris is also seen as a politician who will be moderate on antitrust enforcement at a time when Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple are under scrutiny for alleged anti-competitive behavior. "There's a comfort level that people in California and Silicon Valley have with her and some of the policies that she's supported," Hettinger said.
Experts say the internet industry has historically supported Democratic candidates like vice presidential contender Sen. Kamala Harris, who cultivated relationships with Big Tech during her tenure as attorney general in California.
Amazon employees and PACs specifically may be interested in supporting a Biden administration given Trump's adversarial relationship with the company, Hettinger said.
For example, Amazon's cloud-computing unit has accused Trump of influencing the Pentagon's award of the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, cloud computing contract to Microsoft.
"Obviously if you work at Amazon, you know there is a contentious relationship between the company and the president," Hettinger said. "It probably doesn't take much more than that for someone to say, 'I'm going to give to the guy that's not attacking me.'"
Biden has criticized Amazon and other tech companies for not paying higher taxes and will back proposals that hold the firms accountable by tightening current loopholes, but experts say the tech giants are perhaps the best-equipped to absorb a future tax hike.
The internet sector's giving to Biden's campaign stands in striking contrast with donations flowing to President Trump's 2020 candidate committee, which has seen contributions stem largely from PACs and employees associated with government agencies and contractors.
Top contributors to Trump's candidate committee were donors affiliated with the U.S. Postal Service, who gave $240,040, followed by the Department of Defense with $231,818, and U.S. government donors who contributed $198,368. U.S. government donors contributed a much larger amount to Biden's candidate committee with a total of $858,074.
Donors associated with aerospace company Boeing Co. gave $155,559 and donors of government contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. contributed about $150,121 to the Trump campaign. Affiliated donors of Walmart Inc., the only retailer listed among top contributors to Trump, gave a total of $156,393. Walmart declined to comment for this story. Donors of airline giants American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. gave $196,586 and $156,287, respectively. Both airline companies face furloughs and layoffs, but Republican senators have been working to provide the airline industry with billions of dollars in aid, according to media reports.
Donors of government agencies, military branches and contractors are likely contributing to the Trump candidate committee with hopes of keeping defense budgets flush with cash in the coming years.
"We've seen military budgets significantly increase over the last four years, and there is a view as well that President Trump is relatively transactional," said Mills, of Raymond James. "I'm sure there is a view that you need to ensure that you have done what is necessary politically to ensure the opportunity financially."
Robert Maguire, research director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also added that government agencies and contractors employ a "high proportion of former military, which obviously means they skew more conservative."