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Silicon Valley flexing muscles, becoming bigger player in politics

WASHINGTON – California’s technology sector has booted up a bigger presence in politics in recent years, a shift for an industry that began on the outside but is fast becoming an inside player.

Silicon Valley still has some catching up to do. Tech firms are still not as big a force as Wall Street banks or health care companies. But unlike many sectors that are cutting back on such efforts, Big Tech is expanding its participation in politics, whether that’s support for particular candidates or lobbying on issues important to the industry.

“They’re no longer the little guys trying to make it,” said Paul Goodman, an attorney with the Greenlining Institute, a social justice advocacy organization in Berkeley, Calif.

California-based companies such as Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook have long grown out of the dorm rooms and garages where they were founded and have since become powerful corporations with policy priorities.

“There’s deep disappointment that Washington, D.C., doesn’t run at the same speed as business,” said Steve Wright, a senior vice president at the San Jose-based Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which has 400 member companies.

The industry has four basic priorities, Wright said: Immigration reform, corporate tax reform, cyber security and net neutrality.

Government surveillance, as revealed by the Edward Snowden-NSA scandal is also a concern, given the industry’s international footprint.

Though the tech sector has a left-leaning reputation, the industry has been more pretty even-handed in its political contributions. The same sector that’s been a staunch supporter of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader and a San Francisco liberal, is also a big backer of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield conservative who recently ascended to House majority leader.

Excluding presidential candidates, since 2001, the technology sector has given a total of $365 million to Democrats and $312 million to Republicans, according to an analysis of campaign data by MapLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money’s influence on politics.

“The bottom line for them is their bottom line,” Levinthal said. “They want someone, first and foremost, who’s an advocate for their issues.”

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