Silicon Valley Nerds Organize Fundraising Effort for Clinton

Silicon Valley Nerds Organize Fundraising Effort for Clinton

September 28, 2016 — 11:00 AM EDT September 28, 2016 — 3:49 PM EDT
  • 500 Startups founder attracted $50,000 in donations so far
  • Fundraising group joins a parade of techies backing Clinton

Dave McClure, chief executive officer and founder of 500 Startups.

Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg

A group of self-described nerds from Silicon Valley has banded together for one goal: elect Hillary Clinton.

Nerdz4Hillary, a fundraising campaign spearheaded by venture capitalist Dave McClure, is aiming to raise $100,000 to contribute to the Democrat’s bid for the presidency. The goal is tiny compared with fundraising efforts from other major industries, reflecting the overall dearth of political donations from technology professionals.

Candidates from both sides have tried to tap into the enormous wealth generated by California’s tech sector. Yet, with the exception of a few major donors, the industry hasn’t put up the kind of money that campaigns had hoped for, lagging far behind traditional sources of funds such as the finance, energy and entertainment industries.

Spurred by an especially polarized election, Dustin Moskovitz, a Facebook Inc. co-founder, said this month that he and his wife would donate $20 million to help elect Democrats in the election, including Clinton. Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook hosted a fundraiser for the Democratic presidential candidate this summer and has donated at least $200,000. Other major donors include Airbnb Inc. CEO Brian Chesky and Inc. CEO Marc Benioff. In July, almost 150 tech founders, investors and executives signed an open letter lambasting Trump, calling the candidate a “disaster for innovation.”

Tech executives on the other side are even rarer. Palmer Luckey, founder of Facebook’s Oculus virtual-reality headset, apologized last week for a $10,000 contribution he made to a group that creates controversial anti-Clinton campaigns online. Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, solidified his role as Valley outlier this year with his public support of Donald Trump. He endorsed the candidate at the Republican National Convention, saying Trump would “rebuild America.”

Before striking out to start his VC firm 500 Startups in 2010, McClure served as an investment manager at Thiel’s Founders Fund. McClure said he’s only made small contributions to campaigns in the past but that he sees opportunities to become more involved in politics and wants to help address issues affecting tech companies.

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McClure’s Nerdz4Hillary has received commitments totaling $50,000 from Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup” who’s developing a stock exchange for private companies; Leanne Pittsford, founder of advocacy group Lesbians Who Tech; and staff from PayPal Holdings Inc. and other technology companies. McClure, who calls himself Nerdz4Hillary’s “chief troublemaker,” is reaching out to what he calls the “average Joe” nerds in the tech community for the rest. He expects them to contribute smaller donations of $100 to $500 each.

“There are a lot of people in tech who aren’t super rich but who work a lot and don’t make that much time for political activism,” McClure said. “We want those people to take a deep breath, take a step back from their computers and make a small donation that hopefully makes a difference.”

The Nerdz4Hillary website draws inspiration from “Star Wars.” It casts Clinton as Princess Leia and asks visitors to help to “defeat the Dark Force (Donald Trump).” The website also features quotes from Yoda that not-so-subtly paint the Republican as Darth Vader.

“We do feel serious about what’s going on, but sometimes humor is one of the best ways to engage people in a cause,” McClure said. “The whole Hillary versus Trump thing does have a good versus evil and maybe Emperor Palpatine story line behind it. It fits pretty well.”

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