Trump flops with Silicon Valley donors; Clinton falls short, too

August 9, 2016 6:04 AM EDT

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to the Detroit Economic Club at the Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan August 8, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

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By Julia Love

(Reuters) - When Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman announced last week that she wouldn't vote for her party's presidential nominee, Donald Trump, she pledged to raise money for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and to urge like-minded Republicans to follow suit.

She won’t have to talk her fellow tech industry conservatives into spurning Trump: They already have. His campaign has pulled in less than 6 percent of what Republican nominee Mitt Romney had raised from tech donors by this point in the 2012 race.

But raising money for Clinton may prove difficult. While the Democrat has raised 25 times more than Trump from tech donors so far, she has drawn less than half of what President Barack Obama had raised from tech employees by this point four years ago, and less than Bernie Sanders, her opponent in the Democratic primary, collected before he left the race.

Tech industry employees – long a reliable source of presidential donations, especially for Democrats – have refused to open their wallets for Trump, and they’ve been stingier than usual with Clinton, too, according to an analysis performed for Reuters by Crowdpac, a nonpartisan political crowdfunding startup that analyzes campaign contribution data.

Trump and Clinton together reported having received $3.5 million from tech workers as of June 30, compared with $11 million donated to President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney through June 2012, according to the Crowdpac analysis. In 2008, more than $8.3 million in tech donations had gone to Obama and McCain by June 30.

For a graphic tracking contributions from tech workers in the last three elections, see:

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this story. The Clinton campaign asked for the methodology of the Crowdpac analysis but did not comment on its findings.

To quantify the tech industry's political giving, Crowdpac tallied contributions of more than $200 - the Federal Election Commission's reporting threshold - from donors who listed technology companies as their employers, as well as individuals who work in related roles, such as software engineers and venture capitalists. Contributions to campaigns, Super PACs and joint fundraising committees were included.

The analysis may have missed people who work at small technology companies not yet recognized by Crowdpac, as well as individuals who have given less than $200.

Technology firms lobby the government on a range of issues, from privacy and encryption to immigration and trade, and they have a strong interest in who sits in the Oval Office. But this year, campaign finance records and interviews with more than two dozen people in the industry suggest that many would-be donors in Silicon Valley remain unwashed by either candidate.

Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, gave money to Romney in 2011 and to Republican Marco Rubio in year's presidential primary election. But he won't support either Trump or Clinton in the general election.

“Candidates need to have that embrace of innovation and articulate how it is a road for anybody in our society,” he said. “I’m not inspired by either of the major party candidates.”

Democrats consistently draw more tech money than Republicans, but the giving is unusually lopsided this year. Trump has raised a mere $128,000 from 238 tech donors so far.

Clinton, by contrast, has raised $3.4 million from 2,976 individuals in the industry, according to Crowdpac's analysis.

At this point in 2012, Romney had raised $2.3 million and Obama had raised $8.8 million.

Silicon Valley Republicans say Trump's paltry donation totals are no surprise given his public statements attacking the tech industry.

Earlier this year, Trump called for a boycott of Apple products after the company stopped cooperating with federal law enforcement efforts to break into the password-protected iPhone of one attacker in the mass shooting in San Bernardino. Trump also accused Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos of orchestrating an online retail monopoly.

Trump's positions on limiting immigration and free trade run counter to some of the industry’s most basic interests.

For Clinton, having a long track record in politics is a liability with some donors in an industry that reveres innovation.

“She’s an incremental technocrat, and for people who are used to taking on the world, that is not very inspiring,” said Gregory Ferenstein, author of “The Age of Optimists,” a book about politics and Silicon Valley.

To be sure, Clinton has many friends in Silicon Valley, and she has had considerably more success than Trump in wooing deep-pocket donors in the industry.

Venture capitalist John Doerr, for example, has contributed $569,500 to the Clinton campaign and affiliate Super PACs and fundraising committees, and Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus has given $358,800, according to Crowdpac.

Many in the valley reason that backing Clinton is the surest way to thwart Trump.

"We want to make it clear what the risks are of a Trump presidency, but it’s much more energizing to get excited about a candidate,” Box Chief Executive Aaron Levie said in an interview.

Some of Obama’s biggest Silicon Valley backers have yet to give money in this race, including Pandora Media Chief Executive Tim Westergren, who had donated $74,100 to Obama and to fundraising committees and affiliated Super PACs by June 2012, and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who had given $35,000, according to a Crowdpac analysis of donations.

Reliable GOP donors, too, have held back. Tiger Global Management Founder Charles Coleman and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen - both of whom had given $102,500 to Romney and affiliated Super PACs and fundraising committees by June 2012 - had yet to donate by June 30. Andreessen has endorsed Clinton.

Westergren and Khosla did not respond to requests for comment; Coleman and Andreessen declined to comment.

Carrie Sheffield, founder of multimedia company Bold, typically votes for Republicans and donated to Romney, but she says she won't give to - or vote for - Trump.

“I don’t think that he’s fit for office," she said.

Both Clinton and Trump have also struggled to convert many donors who gave to their opponents in the primary.

Bernie Sanders raised far more in tech donations during the primary than Clinton, pulling in $6.2 million before leaving the primary race, most of it in small contributions.

In the Republican primary, Marco Rubio drew $5.3 million in tech donations, thanks to a handful of large gifts from top tech executives, including Oracle's Larry Ellison, Mark Hurd and Safra Catz.

Josh Smith, a Sanders donor who does not plan to vote in the presidential election, said he was troubled by Clinton's comments in a debate last year urging tech companies to work with law enforcement to prevent attacks.

The remarks left some in the industry feeling that Clinton would not protect their livelihoods and did not share their beliefs about "the sanctity of information,” said Smith, founder of Code Corps, which helps developers work on public software projects for social good.

Sanders donor Xiaohoa Michelle Ching said she will vote for Clinton, but has had trouble supporting a candidate who has been readying her path to the presidency for so long.

“I am not going to go out of my way, even with the threat of a Trump presidency,” said Ching, who is chief executive of Literator, an educational technology startup.

Ferenstein predicts that Silicon Valley donations to Clinton will pick up.

“You’ll see much more money from Silicon Valley flow to Clinton toward the end of the race," he predicted, "because people are scared of a President Trump.”

(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Sue Horton and Brian Thevenot)

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