A San Jose fund-raiser tonight marks the first time President Bill Clinton has returned to California since the details of his admitted inappropriate relationship with a former White House intern were aired across the Internet and on television.
But by many accounts, the president's transgressions have not soured his support among Democrats in Silicon Valley. Tonight's event may be the strongest proof of that yet, as it is expected to be the most lucrative fund-raiser ever held by Technology Network, the high-tech industry's year-old "meet-and-greet" bipartisan lobbying group run by Reed Hastings and venture capitalist John Doerr.
Planned attendance for the fund-raiser at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose was rumored to be suffering, and organizers reportedly had to give away many tickets in order to ensure a full house when the commander in chief arrives.
But McKenna's assistant confirmed that he would indeed attend tonight's event, and had never planned otherwise.
"Regis McKenna is going to sit next to Clinton today and is completely supportive of this president," said Wade Randlett, TechNet's Democratic political director.
Randlett said 33 principles had donated $25,000 to the Democratic Party in order to attend the event with a guest, raising a total of $825,000.
That sum means that tonight's event will raise more money than TechNet's previous fund-raising record-holder--a $50,000 per-plate dinner held at CNET chief executive Halsey Minor's house last September, an event that raised $605,000. (News.com is published by CNET: The Computer Network.)
Only San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer and her husband, Phil Hammer, have been given a free pass to the event, Randlett added, disputing reports that TechNet was giving away tickets to fill up the event.
"Susan Hammer and her husband are our honored guests," Randlett said. "There is one couple that is coming on behalf of Sandy Robertson [of Robertson Stephens], who contributed $50,000. He is on a boat in the Mediterranean. Not every CEO of a fast-moving Silicon Valley company can drop everything to come."
Democratic National Committee officials say Clinton's recent fund-raisers have been well-received. An event held in New York last week was expected to garner $3 million for the Democratic Party's coffers, but netted $4 million instead. A similar event in Boston had a goal of raising $1 million, but "we well exceeded that and at one point we had to actually turn people away," said DNC spokesman Tony Wyche.
"People are approving of [Clinton's] policies. In particular, people in the high-tech community have very good reasons to support his presidency," Wyche said. "He's taken many of the things that come out of Silicon Valley and is trying to get them into the hands of people all over the country, [for example by] wiring classrooms to the Internet?."
Wyche said the DNC's goal for tonight's TechNet fund-raiser was to raise $600,000.
"The reality is that more money is being raised than the goal was for," said California Democratic Party campaign advisor Bob Mulholland, pointing out that donors typically give less, not more money during "off years" when no presidential election is pending.
The Clinton administration's relationship with the high-tech community has been strained in recent months as Congressional Republicans and the White House clashed over the details of a bill that would increase the number of highly skilled foreign workers allowed into the country each year on so-called H1-B visas. Silicon Valley executives have been lobbying for an increase in the annual H1-B cap to help alleviate what they perceive as a shortage of homegrown talent.
Mulholland noted that he doesn't expect the H1-B visa issue or Clinton's sex scandal to damage Al Gore's political stock in Silicon Valley. According to most polls, Gore is the Democratic presidential front-runner for the 2000 election.
"[Gore is] the best friend of the [high-tech] industry in the country," Mulholland said. "As the 1999-2000 election cycle rolls around, he'll be out here [in California] as often--or more often--than ever before. There's nobody on the Republican side, be it [Texas Gov.] George Bush, Lamar Alexander, or Pat Buchanan, that understands this industry the way the vice president does."