Silicon Valley Moguls Push For Campaign Finance Reform

When it comes to big money in politics, a group of tech magnates is fighting fire with fire — or super PAC with super PAC — according to a report from Reuters.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman have joined forces with the super PAC MayDay, which aims to reduce the influence of money in politics.

The super PAC, which was founded by Harvard professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig, has raised more than $1.2 million through crowdsourced funding, according to the MayDay website. The committee hopes to raise $5 million by the Fourth of July and $12 million by the 2014 midterm elections.

According to Newsweek, Silicon Valley billionaires will be matching all donations to MayDay.

In an explanatory video, Lessig said the PAC will run a pilot campaign in the 2014 election, attempting to elect five candidates — showing that Washington money matters in elections and everyday citizens can have a voice. He then plans to expand the campaign in 2016 to elect a Congress that would favor reforming campaign finance law by 2017.

Lessig has pushed for reforms to campaign finance law in the wake of the controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United that ruled restrictions on campaign donations violated freedom of speech.

The ruling struck down laws restricting the amount of money corporations can spend influencing elections. Later that same year, the Court ruled individuals could also spend as much money as they wanted, as long as they weren’t donating to just one campaign, leading to the rise of super PACs.

Activists like Lessig say these rulings give the elite and wealthy a dangerous level of influence in politics.

In another video supporting the campaign, Wozniak outlined how big money corrupts “America’s operating system.” He highlights several areas he thinks big money in politics has failed the tech industry, ranging from net neutrality to the “overreach of the NSA.”

“Right now if a politician wants to get elected, the most important thing is if they can make this tiny group of people happy,” Wozniak says. “What makes them happy isn’t necessarily what makes the rest of us happy. That’s how we end up having to fight both tooth and nail on stuff that’s so bad for the Internet and everyone who uses it.”

Lessig told Newsweek that Silicon Valley was “uniquely positioned” to play a role in changing campaign finance laws because unlike other industries, tech has not yet advanced to the point where it seeks to boost a profit through legislative reforms.

That seems to underplay the role the tech industry has played in financing elections since the Citizens United decision. In the 2012 election, the computer/Internet industry ranked 12 in the top 20 industries making campaign contributions on OpenSecrets.

The industry contributed more than $51.3 million to PACs, parties and candidates, which is not far behind the gas and oil industry’s $56.6 million worth of contributions. Let’s not forget the industry’s role in some major super PACs, such as Mark Zuckerberg’s And Napster co-founder Sean Parker has been making large political donations for years.

If anything, recent controversies over net neutrality and the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program only increase the political clout Silicon Valley seeks in Washington and elections outside the Beltway. Just this week, Politico reported Google is expanding its “army of lobbyists.”

If MayDay actually focuses as Lessig says on electing candidates based on their campaign finance platforms, it could create reforms in Washington. However, with so much of its support coming from the tech industry, it’s possible this initiative could pit Silicon Valley against other industries. It’s hard to argue a super PAC symbolizes the support of the masses when moguls are matching donations.

Only time will tell if this will lead to more billionaires throwing more money at elections or some meaningful changes.