SuperPAC data reveals the most politically influential Americans who made their war chests in technology.
For example, entrepreneur Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook, gave $2.6 million to the pro-Ron Paul Endorse Liberty Super PAC. Thiel, a self-made billionaire who identifies himself as a libertarian (see CNET's interview with him), created the philanthropic Thiel Foundation and co-produced the irreverent 2005 comedy 'Thank You for Smoking."
"I think Peter has a gift for seeing trends," Endorse Liberty founder Jeffrey Harmon told the San Francisco Chronicle last month. "I believe Peter can see that Ron Paul is the future of the Republican Party."
Entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen of Los Altos, Calif., gave $100,000 to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future Super PAC, which has received $43.6 million so far. Andreessen is the co-founder of the Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm, which has raised a total of $2.7 billion since its founding in 2009. Andreessen is probably best known as the co-founder of Netscape; he subsequently formed Loudcloud and Ning. Last year, Andreessen gave $30,800 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and also contributed to Sen. Orrin Hatch's campaign. To put his Restore Our Future donation in perspective: it's dwarfed by contributions from hedge fund manager John Paulson ($1 million); Houston homebuilder Bob Perry (nearly $4 million); retired hedge fund manager Julian Robertson ($1.25 million); and others.
Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman of Atherton, Calif., gave $100,000 to the pro-Romney "Restore Our Future" Super PAC in January 2012. The ex-eBay CEO landed the HP top job last September after losing a 2010 bid to be California's next governor. Whitman is estimated to have spent a record $141 million of her own money in that race; Forbes has placed her net worth as closer to $1.3 billion. Whitman hasn't given that much to GOP candidates, though, in the last few election cycles. Beyond the Romney-affiliated SuperPAC, presidential candidate John McCain (2008) and Sen. Scott Brown were her only contributions.
Early Google employee David DesJardins gave $100,000 to the American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic-affiliated Super PAC founded by Democratic operative David Brock. A New York Times report said that American Bridge 21st Century pays a dozen staffers to record "every utterance by Republican candidates in 2011 and 2012, looking for gotcha moments that could derail political ambitions or provide fodder for television advertisements by liberal groups next year." DesJardins, who lives in Burlingame, Calif., resigned in 2005 after spending six years at the search company as a software engineer and one of its first 20 employees. DesJardins is a founder of the New Ideas Fund, which was formed to "counteract decades of conservative dominance" of intellectual debate, and is a proud supporter of liberal causes including MoveOn, Emily's List, and America Votes.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, creator of the COMDEX computer trade show in 1979, along with his wife Miriam gave a total of $15 million to the pro-Newt Gingrich Winning Our Future SuperPAC. Adelson eventually expanded his empire to include the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and is estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of $24.9 billion. Winning Our Future spent $12.3 million in pro-Gingrich expenses and advertisements and $4 million in anti-Romney efforts, according to OpenSecrets.org. COMDEX was canceled in 2004.
Entrepreneur and angel investor Scott Banister, who lives in Half Moon Bay, Calif., gave $50,000 to the pro-Ron Paul Endorse Liberty Super PAC. Banister was a founder of IronPort Systems, vice president of ideas at Idealab, and a board member of Slide, which was bought by Google in 2010. Banister's LinkedIn profile describes himself, simply, as a "capitalist," and he's written a scathing satire of how awful (thanks to federal tax laws) the current employer-provided health insurance system is. Now Banister is working on startups including sexy social network Zivity, which lets paid users vote on the relative merits of galleries of mostly-unclothed models.
Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg gave $2 million to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action Super PAC, which the president officially blessed last month. (That was after Obama told his supporters in e-mail last fall: "We don't take money from Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs -- we never have, and we never will.") Priorities USA is headed by Bill Burton, Obama's 2008 campaign national press secretary. Other contributors to the Super PAC, which raised $6.5 million as of last month, include Solyndra executive Ben Bierman, HBO's Bill Maher, and Steven Spielberg.
John Mumford, founding partner of Crosspoint Venture Partners, gave $200,000 in August 2011 to the pro-Rick Perry Make Us Great Again Super PAC. That was the same month that Perry entered the presidential race and before a series of missteps that doomed his candidacy, at least this time around. In addition to investments in Ariba, Connectify, and WhereNet, Mumford's other startups included Office Club (which became Office Depot) and food machinery automation companies. "For a number of years, the industry hasn't had any 'brave new world' opportunities in the enterprise space," Mumford said in 2006, according to an article on the Web site of the W.P. Carey School of Business, his alma mater. "The YouTubes, MySpaces, and Facebooks are kind of the new business models that get public attention. This is not something any of us at Crosspoint want to do. So we are winding down our portfolios so we can all retire." Retirement includes maintaining his collection of "approximately 50 street rods, hot rods, and custom cars," including a 1932 three-window coupe and a 1932 Ford. Crosspoint Venture Partners, located in the tony Silicon Valley enclave of Woodside, Calif., is no longer making investments.