Ro Khanna probably isn’t a name you’d immediately recognize, but if you follow the tech industry, that may soon change.
Khanna is a former Obama administration official who is running for the Silicon Valley district’s congressional seat that’s currently held by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.). The Hill is reporting today that Khanna’s campaign has raised $1.75 million from a slew of Valley bigwigs, including Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Marc Benioff, and Mike McCue.
In the first three months since announcing he would run for office, Khanna has raised $1 million, which the campaign claims is the highest of any candidate against an incumbent representative without self financing. By comparison, the Honda campaign has raised about $80,000.
The quick (perhaps oversimplified) observation here is that Silicon Valley’s elite are attempting to buy their own congressman — a 36-year-old Democrat with lots of support from Washington and more than a handful of President Barack Obama’s former campaign staffers. (One of his campaign slogans is even tailor-made to make the tech industry’s most prominent figures drool, too: “Let’s take Silicon Valley thinking to Washington.”)
The 71-year-old Honda has been in office over a decade, while Khanna has no prior experience as an elected official. That may be part of Khanna’s appeal for tech leaders, who may believe they’ll be able to have a degree of influence on Capitol Hill thanks to their campaign donations. There is no shortage of outdated, inadequate policy issues burdening the tech sector’s ability to innovate and grow, and I’m betting Silicon Valley bigwigs are more than happy to pay for someone to represent that in Congress.
Khanna’s already off to a good start, too. Today he issued a statement on Congress’ failure to open a Silicon Valley patent office:
“The General Services Administration’s decision to indefinitely postpone opening a regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Silicon Valley is a shameful consequence of partisan deadlock in Congress. The outcome will impede further innovation and slow economic growth across the country. Funds for the patent office were cut when the sequester passed, a move that exemplifies just how out of touch Congress is with the needs of Silicon Valley. What’s more, the fees collected by the patent office create a system of self-funding that should give it exempt status from the sequester. The implementation of a Silicon Valley branch of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would speed up the patent process, promoting innovation and creating middle class jobs in the process. Instead of playing a dysfunctional game of partisan politics and voting for sequestration, Congress should be working to support American ingenuity, starting with speeding up the processing of patents and decreasing the patent office’s backlog.”
But as The Hill notes, Khanna’s impressive campaign fundraising alone won’t guarantee him a victory when constituents head to the polls in 2014. Honda has endorsements from several high-ranking Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.).
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