The lack of confidence many influential Democrats have in Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is illustrated in a behind-the-scenes effort by Silicon Valley billionaires to shore up the presumptive nominee’s digital campaigning.
“Because the Biden campaign is the Biden campaign, what we are doing on the independent side matters a hell of a lot more than it would previously, one Democratic operative told the website Recode.
Recode reported the billionaires are funding “everything from nerdy political science experiments to divisive partisan news sites to rivalrous attempts to overhaul the party’s beleaguered data file.”
The pandemic has forced campaigns to focus on data mining and influencer marketing, Recode noted, which play to the strengths of the tech titans.
Recode said there are four billionaires who have the most ambitious plans, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Recode noted that while Barack Obama was the first to use digitial campaigning successfully, Democrats have been playing catch-up with Republicans ever since.
Self-identifying progressives were the creators of the digital tools, but “it was conservatives who mastered how to use them, and none more than Donald Trump.”
Recode noted that unlike the typical Democratic donor, the tech billionaires like to claim they are offering more than just a check and want to be more in control.
But that doesn’t sit well with party leaders such as Jane Kleeb, the chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party.
“My problem is when Silicon Valley folks think that they know how to do our jobs better. I would never walk into Google or anywhere else and say, ‘Your model sucks,'” she told Recode. “I don’t second-guess them, and I’m asking them not to second-guess us.”
Kleeb and other Democrats don’t like Hoffman’s $18 million startup called Alloy, which plans to store voter data in an effort to get Democrats to the polls. It’s seen as a circumvention of voter files already kept by Democratic operatives.
But the tech titans clearly believe the party’s efforts are insufficient.
“For far too long right-wing media has dominated our discourse and Facebook news feeds,” Tara McGowan, the founder of Acronym, a political group backed by Powell Jobs and Hoffman, told Recode. “We can’t sit by another cycle and watch a one-sided battle play out online.”
Recode said some longtime political activists are concerned that the Silicon Valley push for efficiency ignores the value of person-to-person conversation they believe is necessary to turn out some voters.
But others point to the efficiency of digital campaigning, citing the “cost-per-net-Democratic-vote.”
Recode pointed to a call last Thursday organized by the Biden campaign that featured Hoffman, who could spend as much as $100 million this cycle.
Brimming with irony, Recode reported a person on the call told Hoffman: “We don’t need you to go and build anything new. There’s no time for that.”