Democrats, Republicans fight for Silicon Valley's attentions

Summary:As the days wind down to the November 2 election, the battle for hearts and minds in Silicon Valley is stepping up.In recent weeks, both Republicans and Democrats have barnstormed through California, looking to ingratiate themselves with the leaders of the state's technology community.

As the days wind down to the November 2 election, the battle for hearts and minds in Silicon Valley is stepping up.

In recent weeks, both Republicans and Democrats have barnstormed through California, looking to ingratiate themselves with the leaders of the state's technology community.

High-tech has been wooed -- quite successfully recently -- by Democrats, in large part due to the attentions of the Clinton Administration. Vice President Gore has demonstrated keen interest in technology and the Internet. And President Clinton, who has cultivated ties with industry notables like former Apple CEO John Sculley, has made several whistle stops -- including a recent fund-raising trip to Silicon Valley last month.

But political consultants and industry executives challenge the conventional wisdom that Democrats have a lock on the technology vote. And with the public and business becoming more involved with technology, they say the two major parties can ill afford to take this interest group for granted.

Republicans reaching out
"It's just not possible to say one party or the other is better or worse for the Internet, or is more or less interested, or understands the technology better," said Jim Dempsey, senior staff counsel Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C. "It's not even a generational gap, or a rural urban gap."



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And technology companies are not discriminating when it comes to supporting politicians. That's one reason why the Republican leadership is determined not to treat Silicon Valley with benign neglect again.

At a press conference last week hosted by the House Republican Conference, executives from Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. -- who all participated in the session by tuning in via Internet connections -- praised the Republican-led Congress' efforts to pass technology-friendly legislation.

The meeting took place only a few weeks after Silicon Valley executives packed the Tech Museum of Innovation in California to raise $650,000 in donations for the President.

Policy analysts say Silicon Valley is reaching out to both sides out of a pragmatic interest in covering all bets -- you help anyone who can help you. And with a Republican-led Congress, it stands to reason that high-tech executives would be out there supporting them.

Parties split over tech policies
But there are some issues that break down more along party lines. One of the biggest is tort reform. Silicon Valley has been fighting hard to make it tougher to file so-called shareholder lawsuits that often follow almost each time a company's stock price dips. But on this issue, the Clinton Administration has been less supportive than the Republicans.

"There's no way a [tort reform] bill would have gotten out of the House or Senate in a Democratic Congress," said Mark Heesen, director of legislative and entrepreneurial affairs at the National Venture Capital Association.

But the day to day issues affecting the future of the Internet and technology are attracting politicians from both sides of the fence, he said.

"When you look at things like encryption or taxation - there's a middle base that Republicans and Democrats gravitate to. Those are issues that would have naturally permeated up no matter who was in Congress," he said.

And he begs to differ with the perception that Silicon Valley is a Democratic stronghold.

"The reality is that isn't the case," he said, adding that Sen. Robert Dole got more campaign contributions from Silicon Valley than the President did in the last election. "The Republicans and Democrats have both gotten strong support in the high-tech community."

While high-tech issues haven't been bruited about as much as the recent Presidential scandals, that doesn't mean they'll fade away come election time.

The recent press conference by the House Republican Conference was organized specifically to underline the GOP's role in high-tech "pro-business" legislation. Indeed, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) snapped at reporters who tried to question him about the Presidential matter, saying that "we're here to discuss the legislation."

Topics: Intel, Apple, Cisco, Microsoft

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