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Tech heavyweights fuel California gubernatorial recall race, but allegiances divided

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·Anchor/Reporter
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom has turned to familiar Democratic faces in the final days of a campaign to keep his job. 

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Senator Elizabeth Warren have all lent their voices to give the embattled governor a boost against a Republican-led effort to remove him from office. But if Newsom emerges victorious on Tuesday, he may have some big name tech executives, particularly Netflix (NFLX) co-founder and co-CEO Reed Hastings to thank.

With a hefty $3 million donation, Hastings’s contribution in support of Newsom is by far the largest sum on either side of the recall fight. His name appears in every Newsom ad, to remind voters. But while Hastings may be the most lucrative backer in this special election scheduled for Sept. 14, the donor list featuring Silicon Valley billionaires extends well beyond the Netflix exec. And their allegiances appear split.

Co-founder and director of Netflix Reed Hastings delivers a speech as he inaugurates the new offices of Netflix France, in Paris on January 17, 2020. - Hastings announced some 20 French projects by Netflix on January 17, 2020. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)
Co-founder and director of Netflix Reed Hastings delivers a speech as he inaugurates the new offices of Netflix France, in Paris on January 17, 2020. - Hastings announced some 20 French projects by Netflix on January 17, 2020. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)

Here are Newsom's backers and total donation amounts, according to state contribution records

  • Priscilla Chan ($750,000), co-founder and co-CEO of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

  • Laureen Powell Jobs ($400,000), president of Emerson Collective

  • Ron Conway ($200,000), venture capitalist

  • Andy Fang ($166,666) and Stanley Tang ($166,666), DoorDash (DASH) executives

  • Connie Ballmer ($1 million), co-founder of the Ballmer group and Washington-state resident, the wife of former Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer 

Meanwhile, Doug Leone, managing partner at Sequoia Capital, leads the list of tech donors backing the recall effort with a roughly $150,000 contribution. Former PayPal (PYPL) executive and Craft Ventures co-founder and partner David Sacks donated $180,000 to pro-recall organizations over a seven-month period, despite having donated more than $58,000 to Newsom’s 2017 election campaign. Sacks, along with Social Capital CEO and former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya (who donated $100,000 to a pro-recall organization) have been among the harshest critics of the governor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying "he has done a terrible job."

The amount of tech money poured into the world’s fifth largest economy highlights the high stakes in Tuesday’s election. A new governor could potentially tip control of the U.S. Senate by appointing a Republican successor for 88-year-old Senator Diane Feinstein (D, Calif.), should she retire.

Political insiders suggest the $3.1 million contribution from Hastings and his wife, Patricia Quillin represent a mea culpa of sorts after the Netflix chief, a strong proponent of education reform, backed Newsom’s opponent Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2018 gubernatorial primary.

“He’s dealing with a sitting Democratic governor. He played against him in the [2018] primary. I think it’s a wise move and a wise consideration to say, ‘I’m going to be behind you',” said former Villairagosa consultant Mike Madrid, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

SAN LEANDRO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08:  California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a No on the Recall campaign event with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris at IBEW-NECA Joint Apprenticeship Training Center on September 08, 2021 in San Leandro, California. With six days to go until the California recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom was joined by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris as he continues to campaign throughout the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN LEANDRO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a No on the Recall campaign event with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris at IBEW-NECA Joint Apprenticeship Training Center on September 08, 2021 in San Leandro, California. With six days to go until the California recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom was joined by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris as he continues to campaign throughout the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Newsom has held the upper hand in campaign donations so far, in part because he isn’t subject to contribution limits, as the target of a state recall. Candidates seeking to replace him are limited, putting Newsom's Republican opponents at a fundraising disadvantage. While the $125 million raised on both sides already exceeds the $90 million spent during the last California gubernatorial recall, Newsom supporters have raked in nearly double the amount of their opponents.

The latest polls show the campaign to keep Newsom in office with a double-digit lead, heading into September 14. But, Silicon Valley heavyweights already have their eyes on the next big statewide race. If Newsom survives the recall effort, he will face re-election next fall. Hastings and former Facebook (FB) executive Sean Parker already lead the list of tech donors for the governor’s 2022 campaign, with nearly $100,000 donations combined, so far.

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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