Where the IT Execs You Make Rich Give Their Money
By Tony Kontzer Memo to IT executives: Do you care about the political beliefs of the executives you're making richer with your technology purchases? If so, have I got a web site for you: Newsmeat, a news site that features a search engine for finding out how people of note have been targeting their political donations since 1978.
I'm admittedly a bit late for election season with this, but I was only turned on to Newsmeat recently, and it inspired me to do a little tabulating on behalf of curious IT executives everywhere. What I learned is that, when it comes to using their personal riches to help politicians get into office, the top execs at some of the world's best-known IT vendors run the gamut, from serial fence-riders to notable bench-sitters to dedicated partisan donors.
Let's start with the fence-riders--those who appear to want to keep things safe, spreading the riches to Democrats and Republicans alike. I mention them first because, interestingly, they are the CEOs at the most established corporate IT suppliers--people like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, and IBM CEO Sam Palmisano.
Ellison and Gates have given similar amounts over the years--Gates' $408,558 in donations edges Ellison's $392,574--but there is an important distinction. Ellison has made most of his donations directly to candidates, with $159,000 going to democrats and $152,174 to republicans, while $81,400, or just over 20 percent, has been funneled through special interest groups, such as Oracle's own political action committee and the Democratic and Republican National Committees. (Ellison may have tipped his hand, however, by donating $2,300 to John McCain in the 2008 election, while giving nothing to Barack Obama.)
Gates, who didn't make any donations to the 2008 presidential candidates, has taken more of a special interest approach to his political contributions, with $177,500 going to various committees while the remaining $231,000-plus has been roughly split between democratic and republican candidates. His cohort and CEO, Steve Ballmer, has employed a similar strategy, awarding $155,250 of his $371,942 in total donations to special interest groups, but he hasn't been quite so egalitarian with his party split, giving $120,642 to republican candidates and just $96,050 to democrats.
For what it's worth, Palmisano has been a bit player in comparison, donating just $19,500 in total, $10,500 of which has gone to republicans and $8,000 to democrats. The IBM chief has been particularly good at picking winners, though: 14 of the 15 candidates to whom he's contributed have gone on to win their elections. That compares with Ellison's and Gates' records of 22-11 and 55-22, respectively. (Ballmer record is a not-to-shabby 55-15.)
Also on the fence-rider list is Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, a man who, over the past 10 years, has demonstrated an appetite for becoming the next big corporate IT vendor. Worth noting is that, despite his company's location in ultra-liberal San Francisco, Benioff has a donation history that actually leans ever-so-slightly republican, as evidenced by his 2008 presidential campaign donations of $28,600 to McCain and $28,500 to Obama. Take what you will from that.
While these technology gurus appear to be eager to please (or buy) everyone, another group of non-committal types has chosen to sit on the bench and hold on to its money, perhaps preserving it for what it deems more worthy causes. This group includes Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who've given a combined $25,000 in political donations, all via Google's own PAC. Having founders with such a low profile on the political donor scene would seem to be in keeping with one of Google's stated corporate philosophy principles: "You can make money without doing evil." Also on the bench-sitting list is Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, who has directed $50,000 of his total of $68,000 in political donations to Amazon's PAC. Of note, however, is the fact that $16,000 of the remaining $18,000 went to democrats.
Is it coincidence that these political bench-sitters are both the heads of Web-based companies that have been defying logic by taking what had been consumer-focused businesses and leveraging their investments in cloud computing to inject themselves into the corporate IT landscape? Do I detect a new trend in tech--perhaps an emerging aversion to lining politicians' pockets in order to fuel a favorable business environment? Which brings us to the partisan donors--who, by putting their dollars where their hearts are, get my immediate respect whether I agree with their politics or not. These are apparent political straight-shooters who don't mind letting their views be known, a list that includes the likes of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Dell CEO Michael Dell, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers.
What you'll also find, however, is that republicans are the big winners in this category. Not that the democrats haven't lined their coffers here, too: Jobs has given democrats $228,000 of his $229,000 in total donations, and Schmidt has given $291,916 to democrats versus just $44,400 to republicans. Those figures, however, suffer in comparison to donations from Dell, who has contributed a whopping $815,500 to republicans and just $19,800 to democrats, and Chambers, who has given republican candidates nearly $1.1 million, versus $201,700 to democrats.
So what does all this teach us? Perhaps more than anything, it simply illustrates that business in the U.S. is a microcosm of the country as a whole. And who knows? It just might help you make your next IT purchasing decision.