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Technology

Bernie Sanders dominates Democrats in donations from tech workers

Bernie Sanders
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire this month.
(Timothy A. Clary / AFP-Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders raised more money in 2019 from employees of the five largest tech companies — which also happen to be the five most valuable companies in the U.S. — than any of his competitors in the Democratic primary field.

The Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist received more than $1 million total in donations from employees of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.

For the record:
11:44 AM, Feb. 13, 2020 In an earlier version of this post, the first name of New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was misspelled as Kirstin.

While “tech worker” conjures images of well-paid professionals in fleece vests, a Times analysis of the data showed Sanders receiving much of his support from the companies’ blue-collar employees, including Amazon warehouse staffers and Apple store salespeople. And his lead is growing, with the gap over his nearest rival, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, widening in the fourth quarter.

Warren, who has turned breaking up the big tech companies into a regular refrain of her stump speech, ranks second in donations from the big five, with a total of $800,000. The Massachusetts senator has been a particular favorite of employees at Google and other companies under the Alphabet umbrella.

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Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., achieved a solid third-place showing, followed closely by businessman Andrew Yang, who announced that he was ending his campaign Tuesday after finishing in eighth place in the New Hampshire primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar raised the least from tech employees last year.

Financial support from tech employees for both Sanders and Yang accelerated in the final quarter of 2019, with the two candidates bringing in nearly half of their total donations from the sector in the last three months of the year.

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Compared with the other candidates in the race, Sanders drew significantly more support from Amazon’s warehouse and fulfillment center workers and drivers. He also received hundreds of donations from the company’s software engineers. His support from Apple was similarly divided between employees in the retail arm of the company and white-collar engineers and designers.

Sanders has repeatedly criticized Amazon for exploiting its blue-collar workforce, and in 2018 introduced a bill in the Senate, the Stop BEZOS bill — named after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — which would have taxed the company in proportion to the number of employees who were receiving federal assistance such as food stamps. Soon after, Amazon announced that it was raising its minimum wage across the company to $15, but the company remains a political target in the 2020 presidential race. Just last week, Warren, Sanders and 13 other Democratic senators sent a public letter to Amazon chiding the company for its workplace safety record.

Some Amazon employees used their political giving as an opportunity to make a statement about their working conditions. Ten Amazon employees in eight states identified their occupation as “slave” or “slave labor.” Federal Election Commission rules require employed persons to disclose their occupation and employer when making campaign contributions.

Seven of those employees donated to Sanders’ campaign, one supported Warren, another backed Yang, and a final self-reported “slave” donated at various points to almost every major Democratic presidential candidate except Sanders, including the campaigns of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Bay Area billionaire Tom Steyer and Julian Castro, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Bennet, Gillibrand and Castro have all dropped out of the race.

A further analysis of all contributions to Democratic presidential campaigns in 2019 showed that Amazon led the nation in employees who reported their occupation as “slave.” The next largest employer of people who described themselves as “slave” was listed as “The Man,” followed by the retailers Walmart and Target.

Amazon was also unique among the top five tech companies in inspiring its employees to editorialize when writing in their employer’s name. One warehouse worker wrote “AMAZON. IT’S AWFUL HELP.” Another, donating to Andrew Yang, wrote “AMAZON (YOU CAN LAUGH, LORD KNOW I DO).”

Three separate employees, including both warehouse and tech office workers, added an emoji to share how they felt: “Amazon :(“

Amazon’s communications office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Times staff writers Maloy Moore and Anthony Pesce contributed to this report.


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