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High-tech political donations jump

After years of acting aloof from the political scene, the computer industry is finally throwing its weight around in the realm of political donations.

After years of acting aloof from the Washington political scene, the computer industry is finally throwing its weight around in the realm of political donations.

A study released today by Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that tracks political contributions, reports that the PC industry is increasing its clout through campaign donations and lobbying efforts. In the 1995-96 election cycle, the industry donated $7.3 million in PAC (political action committee) funding, soft money, and individual contributions to federal candidates and parties, 52 percent more than was spent in the 1991-92 elections.

High tech donations: 1992, 1994, 1996
  1996 1994 1992
PAC $770,748 $722,491 $714,881
Soft $3,217,705 $1,354,325 $1,728,748
Individual $3,268,006 $1,934,329 $2,319,445
Total $7,256,459 $4,011,145 $4,763,074
Source: Center for Responsive Politics

The report is the CRP's first report to break out statistics on the computer industry's political donations.

Like it or not, the industry has had to jump into politics, if only to make sure the government minds its own business. Ever since high tech's success defeating California's Proposition 211, which would have made it easier to sue California companies for securities fraud, the industry has discovered a compelling interest in issues ranging from foreign sales taxes to national security and constitutional law.

Last month, Silicon Valley executives launched a high-profile lobbying organization called the Technology Network to weigh in on such issues. Beltway politicians have heard the call and have begun to court executives in the Valley. Earlier this month, a group of moderate Democrats came during the Congressional recess to woo high-tech executives across Silicon Valley for support, and, of course, cash.

1996 high tech contributions by party
  Amount Democrats Republicans
PAC $770,748 $248,388 $522,360
Soft $3,217,705 $1,761,660 $1,456,045
Individual $3,268,006 $1,364,752 $1,849,370
Total $7,256,459 $3,374,800 $3,827,775
Source: Center for Responsive Politics

The top three donors were not high-tech brand names. Electronic Data Systems came in first, giving nearly $400,000. It was followed by Future Tech International, which gave over $350,000, and by EMC Corporation, which paid over $310,000 in total contributions. Software giant Microsoft ranked seventh, donating about $235,000. Steve Jobs's Pixar came in eighth, giving $150,000. Netscape and Hewlett-Packard, leading activists in the Technology Network, did not make the list.

The study also ranked which candidates received donations. Overall, Republicans raked in just over $3.8 million while the Democrats received just over $3.4 million in PAC funding, Top 10 Senate recipients soft money, and individual contributions. For the Senate, six Republicans and four Democrats made the top-ten list. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) was No. 1, receiving more than $171,000, followed by her fellow Texan Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, who received just more than $163,000.

In the House, each party had five candidates on the top-ten list, but Republican members from high-tech states knocked Democrats out of the top spots. Rep. Tom Campbell (R-California) came in first with more than $65,000; Rep. Thomas Davis (R--Virginia) was second with about $39,000, and Rep. Rick White (R-Washington), Top 10 House recipients who represents Microsoft's Redmond campus, was third with more than $36,000 in the coffers from industry friends.

The study reported that the industry spent $19.9 million on lobbying efforts during the 1996 calendar year. IBM spent the most on lobbying with $4.9 million, followed by Texas Instruments' 3.6 million; Electronic Data Systems' $1.8 million; Microsoft's $1.1 million; and Netscape's $960,000. While the high-tech money tally dramatically increased, it is still dwarfed by traditional Washington bigwigs such as insurance, auto, timber, and tobacco industries.