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Big Tech is spending big to turn the U.S. Senate blue next week

Employees of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft have put $6.4 million behind Democrats’ bid to win the Senate on November 3.

Big Tech is spending big to turn the U.S. Senate blue next week
[Photo: Alejandro Barba/Unsplash]
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The employees of the biggest tech companies spent big in 2020 to help Democrats around the county turn the Senate blue. Democrats need to flip just four Senate seats to achieve a majority in 2021. The party’s urgency for doing so was underlined again Monday as Republicans forced the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on a party line vote.

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According to Federal Election Commission filings through October 15, employees of Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft have spent a combined $6.4 million to help Democrats unseat some of the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate. Employees of these companies live mainly on the West Coast, far away from the states whose Senate seats are in play. But control of the Senate has broad implications for both them and their employers.


Here’s a look at the Democratic challengers who have raked in the most cash from Big Tech employees:

Jaime Harrison (South Carolina)

The first on the list of Republican targets is Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is in the fight of his political career defending his seat against Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. Harrison still trails the three-term senator but is running hard and has a chance. Harrison’s campaign raked in an unprecedented $57 million in donations in the September-ending quarter, much of it from people outside South Carolina—a fact Graham bemoaned on national television. Graham is a particularly juicy target for liberals because of his whiplash conversion to avid Trump supporter after once calling the president a “race-bating, xenophobic, religious bigot.” Employees of the big tech firms have donated almost $1 million to Harrison.

Sara Gideon (Maine)

The second biggest target for tech employees is Susan Collins, the Maine senator who has been a rare voice in the GOP to speak out against the Trumps, but only in words rather than votes. She sided with the president when it really mattered—in the vote to acquit him in the impeachment trial, the confirmation of controversial Supreme Court nominees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, the failed attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act, and the Trump tax cuts of 2017. Tech company employees have donated $832,000 to Collins’s Democratic opponent, Sara Gideon, a former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. Gideon’s campaign has found traction focusing on healthcare reform during the pandemic and hammering Collins’s votes to reject the ACA.

Steve Bullock (Montana)

Big Tech is backing former presidential candidate Steve Bullock in his bid to take one of Montana’s Senate seats away from the Republican Steve Daines. A recent New York Times-Siena College poll had Bullock running three points behind Daines, who received a push when President Trump gave him credit this summer for federal legislation protecting national parks, a big issue among hunters in Montana. But Daines is vulnerable if Democrats come out in droves to eject the president. Tech company employees see it that way, giving a total of $768,483 to Bullock’s campaign, the third most for any Senate challenger.

Theresa Greenfield (Iowa)

Just behind Bullock comes Theresa Greenfield, the Iowa Democrat trying to unseat one-term Senator and Trump loyalist Joni Ernst. Tech employees have put more than $700,000 behind Greenfield, a businesswoman and political newcomer. Greenfield gained national attention as groups like Emily’s List recognized her as capable of flipping Ernst’s seat blue. Ernst, meanwhile, has done herself no favors: When asked during a recent debate for the price of Iowa soybeans, she had no idea, while Greenfield quickly rattled off the current price of Iowa corn. Greenfield has been polling ahead, but within the margin of error. Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight now show the race as a toss-up.

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Mark Kelly (Arizona)

Big Tech employees see Democrat Mark Kelly as having a good shot at unseating Republican Martha McSally in Arizona’s Senate race. McSally was appointed to the seat previously held by John McCain. Kelly, a former astronaut, has lead McSally in the polls throughout the race in a state that’s been leaning blue in recent years. Tech employees have given Kelly just over $672,000 to help him unseat McSally.

Amy McGrath (Kentucky)

Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath is trying to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. The race has gotten plenty of national exposure, and McGrath out-raised McConnell in the September-ending quarter $36.9 million to $15.6 million. Big Tech employees have this year given McGrath just over $627,000 for her fight, perhaps hoping that she’ll ride a blue wave to victory on Election Day. It’s possible, after all. But Kentuckians have sent the powerful McConnell to Congress for 30 years, and FiveThirtyEight says that he’s nearly certain to win another term.

Cal Cunningham (North Carolina)

Tech employees donated more than $626,000 to Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, who is trying to wrest one of the state’s Senate seats from Republican and Trump loyalist Tom Tillis. The race is tight, and Cunningham’s campaign was hurt when news that the candidate cheated on his wife broke in early October. Local media reports that Cunningham hasn’t taken questions from the media since October 9. Cook lists the race as a toss-up.

Jon Ossoff (Georgia)

Ossoff, a 33-year-old media exec, is in a tight race with GOP incumbent David Purdue (cousin of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue) for one of Georgia’s Senate seats. Purdue recently made national news by intentionally mispronouncing vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s first name during a Trump rally. Tech people have donated $461,347 to Ossoff, who has been polling within the margin of error with Purdue. Cook lists the race as a toss-up.

John Hickenlooper (Colorado)

During John Hickenlooper’s ill-fated run for president he said he had no interest in being a senator. But the ex-Colorado governor’s party called on him to run, and he did. Hickenlooper is vying for the seat of Republican Trump loyalist Cory Gardner, who has seen his chances fade in a state that’s leaning leftward. Tech employees have contributed $432,000 to his campaign this year.

Barbara Bollier (Kansas)

Finally, in Kansas, former state representative Barbara Bollier is in a tight race with GOP Congressman Roger Marshall for the Senate seat left vacant by Pat Roberts. Kansas is a deep red state, handing Trump a 20-point victory in 2016, but Bollier has found daylight by talking about the coronavirus and expanding expanded healthcare to lower-income people in Kansas. Cook says Marshall is favored to win, but recent polling in the state strongly suggests a close race. Bollier has raised a surprising $20 million for her run, more than $300,000 of it coming from employees of big tech companies far away on the West Coast.

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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