A $150 billion industry by some estimates, high technology donated a statistically negligible amount of money to this year's presidential campaigns. A breakdown of technology company contributions requested by CNET showed that from January 1995 to June 1996, computer service and equipment companies gave a total of $223,200 to the election campaigns of President Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole.
By contrast, law and lobbying firms donated more than $5.9 million and the securities industry $5.5 million, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that monitors campaign contributions Clinton table / Dole table.
"Traditionally, the valley has not gotten involved in politics in that way. It's like drawing blood from a stone," said Mike Engelhardt, government affairs manager at Sybase. "It's partly philosophical, the nature of the culture of engineers."
Technology executives make no apologies for their political frugality, saying they believe in supporting candidates and campaigns on an issue-by-issue basis, depending on the needs of the moment in the lightyear-fast pace of the industry.
There is also a practical reason for their financial abstention. Many technology companies, especially PC and other hardware manufacturers, traditionally run on exceptionally thin profit margins and have less disposable income than their counterparts in other industries.
"They have worked so hard and been so focused that it's hard for them to understand that this political process has a breadth so much greater than Silicon Valley," said Amber Henninger, campaign manager for Representative Tom Campbell (R-California). "These CEOs are used to saying, 'I want that chip changed by next Friday,' and it is changed."
Not one high-tech company made the list of the top 50 contributors to either Clinton or Dole. The top contributor to both campaigns, accounting firm Ernst and Young, gave $135,750 to Clinton and $107,650 to Dole--more money than the entire high-tech industry combined. Dell Computer, which reported $5.3 billion in revenues last year, gave a whopping $250 to the Dole campaign. Apple Computer came up with $250 for Dole and nothing for Clinton. Novell beat them both with $750 for the Democratic ticket.
The figures also produced some interesting dichotomies. Oracle employees gave nothing to Clinton but contributed $4,000 for Dole, even though company president and CEO Larry Ellison spoke at the Democratic convention in Chicago last week. (Ellison has yet to formally endorse any presidential candidate.)
The list, part of a larger study of all U.S. industries, was based on a review of about 61,000 contributions of $200 or more that were donated through political action committees, company officers, or employees and their families filed with the Federal Election Commission in reports released July 1. Federal election laws forbid corporations from contributing directly to campaigns and limit individual donations to $1,000 per candidate for each election.
To avoid the contribution limit, many donors also give through corporate or single-issue political action committees (PACs), which in turn give money to candidates who support their interests. The total amount an individual may give to national candidates, parties, and PACs combined is limited to $25,000 per year. Of the 61 computer service and equipment companies that gave to the Clinton reelection campaign, not one donated through a political action committee. Of 58 companies that gave to Dole, only two, Computer Sciences and Storage Technology, gave through a PAC. Each company gave $1,000.
Candidates also receive donations in what is known as "soft money." Such contributions, made to a political party to be used only for "party-building" activities such as get-out-the-vote drives, are not limited by federal law. In reality, soft money pays for overhead and other behind-the-scenes expenses, freeing up other party funds to support candidates. Contributors identifying themselves with the following companies donated to the Clinton campaign from January 1995 through mid-1996. The contributors were selected because they receive at least 15 percent of their revenues from computer-related businesses and products, including components, accessories, data processors, software, and programming. Companies themselves are forbidden by law from contributing directly to political campaigns.
|Advanced Micro Devices||$1,000|
|Amcom Business Centers||$1,000|
|American International Data||$1,000|
|Apache Medical Systems||$1,000|
|Applied Language Technologies||$2,000|
|Basye Consulting Group||$1,000|
|Business Software Alliance||$1,000|
|Computer & Communication||$1,000|
|Computer Data Systems||$1,000|
|Corabi International Telemetrics||$1,000|
|Future Tech International||$22,000|
|Hitachi Data Systems||$500|
|Imagination Pilots Entertainment||$6,000|
|Integrated Business Solutions||$1,000|
|National Systems & Research||$2,000|
|Software Publishers Association||$250|
|ALR Systems & Software||$250|
|Advanced Med Tech Association||$1,000|
|Advanced Micro Devices||$1,000|
|Automatic Data Processing||$1,000|
|Computer Language Research||$1,000|
|Delta Tau Data Systems||$2,000|
|Epsilon Data Management||$500|
|First Data Resource||$1,500|
|Flexi Intl Software||$2,500|
|Hitachi Data Systems||$1,000|
|LA Dorn Systems||$2,000|
|Office Systems Service||$2,000|
|Science Applications International||$1,250|