Saturday 20 December 2014

Obama taps tech world for money

Published 08/05/2014 | 20:52

Barack Obama waves after arriving in California on Air Force One to attend a political fundraiser
Barack Obama waves after arriving in California on Air Force One to attend a political fundraiser

US president Barack Obama was attending two high-dollar Democratic Party fundraisers tonight in California hosted by Silicon Valley executives, drawing attention to the complicated relationship between the president and the high-tech industry in the aftermath of scandals over government snooping.

The revelations of National Security Agency data collection made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have created an outcry from tech companies whose data has been gathered by the government. Obama has had to reassure internet and tech executives that he is committed to protecting privacy.

Still, Obama remains a popular political figure in Silicon Valley, and the wealthy tech entrepreneurs appear willing to part with their money to support the party, especially if the president is making the pitch.

Obama was to attend a fundraiser hosted by Anne Wojcicki, a biotech entrepreneur who founded the personal-genomics startup 23andMe. The event is advertised as a Tech Roundtable, with 30 guests and tickets set at 32,400 dollars (£19,000).

He also was scheduled to be the featured guest at an event hosted by Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer and Sam Altman, the 29-year-old president of Y Combinator, a venture capital firm that seeds tech startups.

The role of the computer and Internet industry in US politics has grown sharply over the past 10 years, increasing political contributions and expanding its lobbying presence. Executives and employees in the industry favour Democrats, yet the political action committees set up by individual tech firms tend to split their money more evenly.

So far this election cycle, computer and internet industry political action committees have contributed about 3.5 million dollars (£2 million), with about 54%of it going to Republicans, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money. Counting political action committees and individual donors, the industry has donated more than 14 million dollars (£8.2 million) to federal candidates.

In addition to cybersecurity, Silicon Valley executives have also weighed in on new "net neutrality" regulations being fashioned by the Federal Communications Commission and have raised fears that the rules would allow telephone and cable Internet providers to impose fees on internet companies.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the tech executives were donating because they support Obama's policies, and he rejected suggestions that the tech executives were getting financial leverage to affect Washington issues of concern to the industry.

"There's no reason to think that that the policy-making process is affected by those involved," Earnest said.

Among the major tech players, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has been an especially high-profile figure a nd he has been a vocal critic of the NSA's data collection, calling Obama to voice his alarm. Shortly after, Obama met Zuckerberg and chief executives from Google, Netflix and other tech and internet companies, pledging to safeguard privacy rights.

The administration has since issued recommendations asking Congress to pass new privacy laws that would provide broader data protections for Americans from both the government and the private sector.

Press Association

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