With Silicon Valley having caught up to Wall Street for the top spot in financially influencing Washington D.C., they are developing technology to fix the American Democracy to be more responsive to Silicon Valley corporate needs.
Chris Lehane, a Bay Area Democratic strategist for billionaire Tom Steyer, describes the politics of Silicon Valley, “We’re like an ATM, but for the ATM to work you have to answer some questions.”
To get the right answers, lobbying expenditures by computer/Internet companies hit $139.5 million in 2014, up +2,000 percent in the last 25 years. Tech campaign donations for the 2016 political races are expected to more than double from the record $64.1 million in 2012 Presidential cycle, which was up +$17.8 million in 2008.
OpenSecrets.org predicts that, “From Capitol Hill to the White House, tech money will be everywhere as 2016 looks like it will be Silicon Valley’s biggest year yet.” Led by Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, OpenSecrets expects “Left Coast” superstars and worker bees to “fork over most of their contributions to help the Democratic nominee.”
But Silicon Valley corporate players have also been quietly sponsoring a number of shadowy tech start-ups that could dramatically influence political outcomes.
Sean Parker, billionaire founder of Napster and former Facebook President, and Jason Putorti, venture capitalist at Bessemer Venture Partners, have teamed up to create the Brigade social networking app to virally engage Americans in their political life.
Parker told Politico that with $9 million of initial funding in April of 2014 from players like top Silicon Valley investor Ron Conway and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Brigade now has 30 full-time engineers, and offices in San Francisco and Washington.
The Brigade app asks users to click their opinions on issues in the news. The app then compares how a users’ thinking matches up with that of their friends. Parker describes the app as participating in a debate club. “Rather than encouraging shallow thinking, that approach forces Brigade users to be transparent about where they stand.
But psychologists caution that this type of system is ripe for being used by clever operatives to politically shape thoughts by shaming users into thinking their opinions are somehow “defective.”
Parker acknowledges that all the intrusive data being collected allows for a valuable big data understanding of a user’s thinking down to the issue and sub-issue level that can then be compared with others in their networks. He joked, “We’re fifty percent aligned, and 70 percent aligned in immigration, and we’re 20 percent aligned on cooking guinea pigs in public.”
Other Silicon Valley start-ups seeking to influence what they call low information voters include:
FairVote.org, California Citizens Redistricting Commission and Wonkblog are pushing to eliminate the power of parties though so called open primaries and to concentrate Democrat leaning city-dwellers into their own Congressional districts.
Represent.US and Lawrence Lessig are pushing to undermine the Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. FEC decision that allows formation of independent expenditure committees. Lawrence Lessig, who previously ran a political pac for progressives named Mayday in celebration of the Communist Internationale, is running a campaign for President on this single issue.
Crowdpac, OpenVote, Verafirma were formed to oppose conservative groups, like the NRA, that have the ability to turn out membership for elections and advocacy, like phone calls to Congress. Crowdpac allows the creation of so called citizen PACs that will “reliably get members to vote like a union.”
The motto for the bipartisan Center for Responsive Politics that has tracked and outed the unhealthy influence that money and lobbying can have on American elections and government bureaucrats is, “Just as water flows downhill, money in politics flows to where the power is.” Silicon Valley interests seem determined to accelerate that flow.