Why Tech Execs are Eyeing a Run for Political Office

on August 7, 2017
Reading Time: 5 minutes

There have been many stories written recently about Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg doing a tour of America to try and find out what people all over the US are thinking and are concerned with these days. He called it a fact finding trip and stated it had no political focus. But according to an article in Politico, Zuckerberg recently “hired a Democratic pollster, Joel Benenson, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama and the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, as a consultant, according to a person familiar with the hire. Benenson’s company, Benenson Strategy Group, will be conducting research for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the couple’s philanthropy.”

While Zuckerberg denies political ambition, the belief here in Silicon Valley is that he is thinking more seriously of some type of political run or campaign that he could launch in the near future or at least understand how he can be more influential in guiding US policy when it comes to the potential impact that technology will play in America’s future over the next 30 years.

There is some interesting history of this type of Silicon Valley political activity and I wrote about this for Fast Company last fall.
Here is a passage that explains the Valley’s early interest and influence on Washington:

“During my 35 years of covering the technology industry, I have seen firsthand how companies have tried to keep an arm’s-length relationship with the government. With some rare exceptions—the Pentagon’s cooperation and collaboration with industry brought us the internet—Silicon Valley has generally tried to avoid federal and state bureaucrats. After all, the less the government knew about what tech companies were doing, the fewer legal and legislative issues the industry would have to deal with. This dynamic no longer works.

In the mid 1990s, a group of technology heavyweights led by Cisco’s then-CEO, John Chambers, and Kleiner Perkins venture capital firm partner John Doerr, along with various other tech leaders, began to realize the Valley would need the partnership of government and politicians for their vision of the future to be realized to the fullest.

Chambers and Doerr et al also foresaw the dramatic impact that the internet and mobile technologies would have on the U.S. and the world. Already back then, Chambers was percolating his ideas of connected cities and the Internet of Things (IoT).

These executives began evangelizing these concepts within the Clinton administration and at the federal agency level. They made an effort to educate elected officials on how technology would impact every level of government, and how it would transform our cities, businesses, and system of education.

To their credit, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore understood what Chambers and Doerr were saying. Clinton and Gore opened lots of doors for the tech leaders in Washington, giving them a chance to share their vision of the future.

At the end of the Clinton era, when Al Gore battled George W. Bush for the presidency, Chambers, Doerr, and other Silicon Valley leaders wisely kept up their efforts to influence both candidates. It became clear that whoever became president would follow President Clinton’s lead and allow Silicon Valley leaders to continue pushing the tech agenda.”

The heart of this recent interest in the tech world getting more involved in politics by either running for office or finding new ways to influence our politicians is the even greater understanding today of the impact of tech on our worlds future and how it could dramatically change American education, jobs, businesses and our personal lives over the next 30+ years.

In a separate piece I did for Time Magazine before the last election entitled “Why Our President needs to take Tech Seriously” I wrote the the following:

“With 5G, it will begin connecting people to devices, and devices to other devices. The latter is called the Internet of Things, and it’s primed to profoundly change our lives, much the way the regular Internet has. It’s also a potentially huge source of growth — Cisco estimates IoT gear and software will become a $14 trillion market over the next decade.

5G isn’t the only innovation on the horizon. Connected and autonomous cars will hit the streets in the next decade. In combination with the IoT, they’ll “speak” to one another and to public infrastructure, helping us build smarter cities. Tech companies will roll out new ways to track our health, connecting us to our doctors to help us stay healthy. Artificial intelligence will be applied to just about everything that technology already touches. Digital security will become an even more vital issue, as businesses and individuals will be increasingly targeted by hackers. The very nature of computers will change, too, as virtual and augmented reality will be established as the new interface of computing, delivering new forms of utility and entertainment.”

I also add to this AR, VR, Machine Learning, Robotics in manufacturing and new advances in medical science and you see that technology is on course to disrupt just about everything that is around us today and well into our future.

“However, for all these innovations to thrive — and deliver potentially huge economic benefits — they will need the help of our elected officials. Lawmakers need to understand these technologies, as they will be called upon to craft new laws and regulations to bring these technologies about smartly and safely.

Therein lies a problem. If you look at our lawmakers across the country, I would venture to guess that most are not very technologically savvy. For our country to truly enjoy the benefits of these new technologies, we’ll need politicians and officials who understand how these innovations work, and how they stand to change our lives.”

Tech execs who understand the role of technology on our future as well as its impact on things like education, the future of manufacturing, world of finance, etc look at our current president and some members of congress and see almost no understanding or vision of what a crucial time we are in our history. When it comes to the role technology will play in impacting every aspect of our business and personal lives and our culture going forward, their lack of tech savviness that will keep America from advancing and allow countries like China, Canada and France and others, who’s leaders embrace technology rather then dismiss it, from potentially leaving us in the dust. Even worse, some of congressional leaders sees tech and science as a detriment to their political goals and have become obstructors instead of visionary backers.

That is why some high powered tech leaders are thinking the unthinkable these days. Many tech execs that I know hate and do not trust our government but are starting to come to the conclusion that a President, Senator and Congressmen and Congresswomen needs to have a greater grasp of how technology will shape our world and country and be tech savvy enough to keep America moving forward now. I am told behind the scenes that some very high powered, forward thinking tech execs who really understand how technology is going to drive so many major things tied to America’s growth and world position are starting to contemplate running for office in many states around America. Their goal would be to gain a stronger position of influence when it comes to the role government must play in guiding how technology is applied and integrated into all of our business and personal lives fairly and equally.

I have no clue whether Zuckerberg will or will not eventually move into politics but I am willing to bet that as more and more tech execs understand the magnitude of what has to be called the great tech revolution of this century, we will see some of them trying to find a greater way to influence our current politicians and even see some begin to run for office in order to influence our government from within as much as possible.