Some tech donors focus on fixing political system – SFGate

Some tech donors focus on fixing political system

Google executive Matthew Cutts is the nation’s 12th-largest individual political donor in the 2014 election cycle, but he hasn’t given a single dollar directly to a candidate.

Instead, Cutts, who leads Google’s spam team, gave nearly all of his $210,000 in donations to organizations that “promote transparency, citizen-funded elections, and attempts to tackle corruption in the political process,” he wrote in response to a Chronicle blog on his contributions. He declined to further explain his giving philosophy.

Analysts say Cutts is on the leading edge of how other tech industry donors approach politics. Instead of tossing their money onto the eternal bonfire of partisan political operations, they seek other ways to change a system they view as broken, corrupt and opaque.

Cutts and his family directed $200,000 of their 2014 contributions to Friends of Democracy, a super PAC that aims to reduce the power of money in politics by supporting candidates who back campaign finance reform. Its co-founder is Jonathan Soros, son of left-leaning billionaire George Soros, and himself the nation’s leading individual donor.

Cutts gave the rest to the Google Inc. political action committee, which has supported Republicans and Democrats in nearly equal measure this cycle, according to campaign records compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The Los Altos resident stands alone as the only member of the nation’s top 100 individual donors to direct all of his money to nonpartisan outfits.

‘Tip of a new trend’

“Cutts is an outlier and at the tip of a new trend,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “Though they are still small, there are multiple efforts afoot trying to convince wealthy individuals to help change the system, rather than invest in political contributions to advance the interests of their business or industry. Of course, here, Cutts is supporting the corporate (Google) PAC, too, so he’s using both routes.”

Dan Newman, president and co-founder of the nonpartisan Maplight, which analyzes the role of money in politics and counts Cutts as a past donor, says these new kinds of contributors are often “people who have gotten fed up with our political system.”

“Tech people are used to looking for solutions, and they have less patience for waiting around for change,” he said.

Douglas Edwards, who was Google employee No. 58 until he retired several years ago, has also begun directing his campaign donations to transparency organizations like Maplight. “But I skew partisan (Democrat) a little more than Matt,” he said.

Edwards describes political giving as “a different conversation in the valley.”

“People say, ‘I would rather write code that could fix a problem rather than throw money at a problem that is intractable,’ ” Edwards said.

One such effort is NationBuilder, which enables people to inexpensively create online campaigns complete with fundraising operations linked with social media. Last fall, it attracted $6.2 million in venture capital from leading valley venture capitalists like Marc Andreessen and Sean Parker, himself the nation’s third-leading individual political donor.

By giving citizens who are not part of the entrenched political system the tools to start a campaign, “power gets decentralized,” said Michael Moschella, the vice president of organizing at NationBuilder. Read Full Article 

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