Tech Execs Rally Behind Harris as Known Quantity for VP Pick

Many people in Silicon Valley sighed a breath of relief when Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. After a primary season in which hostility towards the tech industry ran hot, Biden tapped a politician who has spent most of her career representing the Bay Area, who has a tight relationship with billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs—and whose brother-in-law is one of the top executives at ride hailing company Uber Technologies Inc.

“Folks in Silicon Valley, they know Kamala,” said Cooper Teboe, among the most prominent Democratic fundraisers focused on the tech industry. “Even if they don’t know her that well personally, they at least know someone who knows her very well personally.”

While the rank-and-file supported more progressive candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, there was palpable discomfort among tech executives and other potential big-money donors. As a presidential candidate herself, Harris didn’t manage to solidify the support of large tech donors, either; Pete Buttigieg raised more from tech than she did. Still, her selection is nearly guaranteed to help the Democratic ticket’s fundraising in Silicon Valley.

Prominent tech figures like venture capitalist and Alphabet Inc. board member John Doerr, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Salesforce Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff have already written her checks. “Senator Harris has a long history with tech companies since she was attorney general in California and before,” said Julie Samuels, a tech policy lobbyist based in New York. “She’s familiar with the issues, and to be honest that would be a relief to have in the White House.”

Read More: Wall Street Democrats Rejoice at Harris Pick 

Biden’s choice of Harris, who will speak Wednesday night at the Democratic convention, had an immediate impact on fundraising overall. The Biden campaign raised $26 million nationally in the first 24 hours following the announcement that she was joining the ticket.

Like many lawmakers, Harris has thrown some hardball questions at technology executives in recent years. But she has a long history of striking an accommodating stance on antitrust enforcement, the tech industry’s primary political concern. The Department of Justice is aggressively developing an antitrust case against search giant Alphabet Inc. Four of the biggest technology companies’ chief executives were hauled in front of a subcommittee of the House of Representatives for an antitrust hearing in July as part of a sprawling investigation that could lead to proposals for harsher antitrust laws as early as next month.

Harris positioned herself as a local champion of the tech industry with a “certain bravado about being a California kid” as far back as 2010, when she was District Attorney for San Francisco and running for state Attorney General. At an event at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View David Drummond, then the company’s top lawyer, interviewed her in front of the company’s employees. When Drummond said antitrust enforcement could hamper technological disruption and argued that competition kept tech companies from abusive behavior, Harris essentially agreed.  “You know I’ think you’ve articulated it,” she said. “We cannot be shortsighted and I think that’s part of it. We have to allow these businesses to develop and grow,” she said.  

In a field of tech skeptics, Harris also positioned herself as a comparatively tech-friendly candidate during her own presidential run. But the technology industry’s reputation has been badly battered. Even though Harris’s views on tech seem moderate compared to Senators Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, she is much less sanguine about the industry than she was a decade ago. She has criticized Twitter Inc. for not taking stronger action against President Donald Trump, who she says has violated its content standards. But Harris has been particularly critical of Facebook Inc. In an interview with CNN in May 2019, Harris said “we need to seriously take a look” at whether Facebook should be broken up, calling it “essentially a utility that has gone unregulated.”

As California’s Attorney General, Harris criticized Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, saying it hampered her ability to combat sex trafficking. She has also been a vocal advocate of privacy policy, and she supported California’s Assembly Bill 5, which set out to make Uber and Lyft Inc. drivers employees under state law. Now the companies are warning the law could lead them to suspend service in their home state. (Harris’s sister and Presidential campaign chairwoman, Maya Harris, is married to Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer and a former high-ranking Justice Department official who is central to the company’s response to the law.) 

More broadly, Harris has positioned herself as a non-ideological candidate, which gives activists on both sides of tech issues hope that she will drift in their direction. She could take a firmer stance, which would align her with the official Democratic positions on tech, and in any case will be taking cues from Biden if his wins the presidency.

But there’s no question that Harris has a lot of trust in Silicon Valley, her home turf. Soon after the Harris decision was announced, Powell Jobs tweeted, “Joe Biden you made a great choice!”

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