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GOP Woos High-Tech Industry

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Benjamin Cardin was an initial co-sponsor of Internet anti-piracy legislation that received massive backlash from many in the Web industry.

Democrats, long the darlings of the technology industry, might be losing some of their fundraising edge in Silicon Valley.

With major firms spending more than ever on politics, Silicon Valley has become a necessary stop on the campaign trail for Republicans, too, and lobbyists warn that the industry’s allegiance to Democrats might be waning.

“Six years ago, if you had a ‘D’ next to your name ... you could come to the Valley and pick up a good amount of money from the tech community,” one industry lobbyist told Roll Call. “The Valley is not lock step Democrat anymore. It is like any mature industry. They are covering their bases.”

In the past several months, Republicans have begun to take note of the new opportunities. Freshmen such as Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Mike Lee (Utah) have won allies in Silicon Valley by focusing on a message of limited government and staying away from social issues, several lobbyists said.

“A lot of them are libertarians — the less government is talking to me the better,” one lobbyist said. “God, gays and guns — you talk that up, and the industry recoils.”

The Republican outreach extends to industry activities in Washington. Facebook, for example, which spent more than $1.7 million on lobbying in 2011, announced Friday that it was adding another Republican to its already GOP-friendly Washington office.

TechNet, the major trade association for technology companies, organized events last year for House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), pulling in more than $50,000 each, according to one source familiar with the fundraisers. In May, a TechNet event benefiting Speaker John Boehner’s (Ohio) joint fundraising committee, which includes the National Republican Congressional Committee, raised more than $250,000.

A Republican operative with knowledge of the party’s fundraisers described the Boehner event as “the first of its kind.”

“It has traditionally been a harder nut to crack than other areas,” the operative said.

Meanwhile, events the organization put on for Democrats have been underwhelming, including separate events for Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Benjamin Cardin (Md.) that raised only $55,000 combined.

“It was hard raising; there were a lot of questions,” the source said. “The bar is getting raised for convincing people why they need to help folks.”

Another experienced fundraiser agreed: “We see a lot of Democrats heading out there right now who are not successful.”

Menendez and Cardin are up for re-election this year and were initial co-sponsors of the PROTECT IP Act that was anathema to Internet companies. Cardin, among others, withdrew his support for the bill in the face of a massive backlash from those concerned about its effect on Web content.

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