IT Advocates Who Have the President's Ear

Pop quiz: Which candidate said what about the new economy?

A."Every child in America—regardless of income, geography, race or disability—should be able to reach across a computer keyboard and reach the vast new worlds of knowledge, commerce and communication that are available at the touch of a fingertip."

B."Technology has brought so many opportunities into our lives. Now we must make sure that these opportunities are shared as widely as possible so that everyone can gain and everyone can contribute."

If you’re having trouble answering, it’s not because you haven’t been paying attention. When it comes to IT policy, George W. Bush and Al Gore are reading from the same playbook. Though the two diverge on many details, Gore (A) and Bush (B) have similar stated goals for promoting e-commerce at home and abroad, training a tech-savvy workforce and spreading opportunity to the economy’s have-nots. And the reason Gore and Bush sound alike is not just because, like all presidential hopefuls, they’ll say just about anything they think will win them votes. The truth is their technology slogans and policies come from the same source: IT industry execs from vote-rich Texas and just-plain-rich Silicon Valley, along with their lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

So far, the candidates have been using those connections to drum up support and raise money. Later, however, when the candidate metamorphoses into the president, and the things he says will actually affect the way we live and do business, the power of those advisers will grow. Access is everything. After all, politics is all about how big a piece of the economic pie you get, and you’re much more likely to get a bigger slice if you know someone (or you know someone who knows someone) who’s handing the chief executive the knife.

Choosing Sides

Who will have the next president’s ear? For Gore, it’s a mix of old friends and new political allies. His inner circle of IT advisers is a tightly knit fraternity mostly made up of people who have held important staff or political posts during Gore’s 23 years in elected office. As lawyers, lobbyists or corporate executives, almost all once worked or are currently employed by high-tech companies.

Bush, newer to public service than Gore, is closest to an alliance of high-tech executives he has courted ever since winning the Texas governorship in 1994. Most of them are also relatively new to politics, becoming active in the past decade as government began debating how much to regulate technology and the Internet. Bush’s IT team is drawn mainly from the board of TechNet, a bipartisan industry lobbying group that also has members supporting Gore. Both Bush and Gore count among their starting IT lineup partners from Silicon Valley’s hottest venture capital organization, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.

Campaign veterans maintain that these high-tech honchos don’t call the shots. A web of advisers to both campaigns, on everything from education to national security, gets to weigh in before its candidate decides whether to wire more schools or ease export controls.

"With the significant changes in our economy, technology issues are a part and parcel of every domestic area; they’re not just a separate issue," says Stephen Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis who is Bush’s chief domestic policy adviser. "They are part of changing the way we look at [the] environment, part of the way we fight crime and part of the way we reform government. There have been individuals the campaign has sought for specialty issues like taxation on the Internet or privacy, where there are interesting and complicated questions. But as a rule, the technology issues cut horizontally across every area."

Ditto for Gore. "IT policy is in no way an isolated thing for him. It’s woven into every decision," says Jim Kohlenberger, the vice president’s senior domestic policy adviser in the White House, who is helping the campaign in his off-hours.

Still, thanks to its money, high profile and money, when it comes to broad issues like education, trade and tax policy, the IT industry’s agenda matters.

There’s a level at which that’s hardly worth mentioning. The IT business is business, and ideas like smoothing the way for more exports to China and making sure students leave high school computer literate probably mean much the same whether your company makes modems or soft drinks. But if the president is, say, negotiating to waive tariffs on Internet purchases, which in turn affects your supply chain or sales strategy, one policy may not fit all. That’s when having access, or knowing someone who does, becomes important.

Although both Bush and Gore have met with dozens, maybe hundreds, of technology experts during the past few years in preparation for their campaigns, the political advisers profiled here are the ones who are most involved week to week in helping the candidates shape their IT policy. If you know one of them, you might get to know the president too.

Michael Dell CEO, Dell Computer Corp.

Houston-born Michael Dell, 35, is one of Texas’ high-tech movers and shakers who Bush turned to after he became governor in order to learn about what makes the industry tick. (Dell’s company is based near Austin, Texas’s capital, where he spent a year at the University of Texas.) The entrepreneur and the governor hit it off, according to Dell spokeswoman Michele Moore, because of "mutual respect and like-mindedness regarding business issues that affect the industry."

Now he’s head of the Bush campaign’s IT advisory council, a group of dozens of high-tech leaders who convene in Austin every few weeks to talk technology with the candidate. Campaign aide Tim Adams says the council "is laden with some of the smartest, the best and the brightest in the IT community," counting Dell among them. "I think the governor relies on their judgement," he says.

Dell wouldn’t tell us exactly what he’s been telling Bush, but on June 8 he told reporters at the National Press Club that he advocates training teachers to use computers in the classroom. A few weeks later, Bush endorsed that idea in his proposal to broaden the use of federal subsidies earmarked for wiring schools and libraries to the Internet, though he didn’t credit Dell directly.

Dell’s involvement in politics has grown with his company. He’s joined other high-tech CEOs who belong to the Computer Systems Policy Project, which lobbies for trade with China and easing export restrictions on computers, and he helped this year to found the Privacy Leadership Initiative, a coalition of companies that aims to show consumers and businesses how to guard individual privacy online. He’s written a book about his company, Direct from Dell: Strategies that Revolutionized an Industry (Harper Business, 1999).

James Barksdale Managing Partner, The Barksdale Group

A former CIO (at Federal Express, from 1979 to 1983, James Barksdale later became the company’s COO, and he was CEO of AT&T Wireless and CEO of Netscape), Barksdale is one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent Republicans. He’s a former college classmate of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). He says he met Bush last year when the Texas governor invited him to Austin to "update him on tech issues." Barksdale says he decided to back Bush because he liked what he had done to reform the Texas education system. (Bush touts such changes as yearly student testing, the creation of charter schools that operate free of many state regulations and increased funding for reading programs.) "The biggest issue to me and to TechNet, which I cochair, is improving public education in America," Barksdale says.

Inspired by what he describes as Bush’s success with improving literacy in Texas, in January, the 57-year-old Mississippian, who says reading didn’t come easily to him, donated $100 million to his alma mater, the University of Mississippi, to train reading teachers. "If you can’t read, you can’t use the Internet," he said to the Mississippi Economic Council in May. He says he and his wife, Sally, a community volunteer, plan eventually to give away their entire fortune. He’s now a venture capitalist.

Robert Herbold Executive Vice President and COO, Microsoft Corp.

Cox News Service reported last July that even before his candidacy became public, Bush sought Robert Herbold’s help, and even though he hadn’t been politically active before, Herbold reportedly is now an enthusiastic and effective Bush fund-raiser. Bush caused concern among IT execs in March when comments he made about the Microsoft antitrust case were interpreted by some as taking the Redwood, Wash., giant’s side. Campaign aides later promised that Bush would stay neutral in the case, now under appeal. The technology industry—including executives like Bush adviser Barksdale, who supported the government’s case—is divided on what Microsoft’s fate should be.

Through a spokesman, Herbold, 57, declined to be interviewed or answer questions.

John Chambers President/CEO Cisco Systems

Cisco executives play on both teams. Daniel Schienman, Cisco’s senior vice president for legal and government affairs, consults with Gore, and Republican John Chambers is an ardent Bush supporter. Chambers hosted Bush’s lucrative, well-publicized Silicon Valley fund-raiser in June.

Cisco spokesman Kent Jenkins says Chambers decided he wanted to meet Bush "several years ago" after hearing business associates in Texas speak enthusiastically about him. Jenkins doesn’t say exactly how the two got together, just that they "had an opportunity to

sit down" and get to know each other. The two hit it off. Jenkins says Chambers, 51, liked Bush’s "entrepreneurial spirit." (Bush started his own oil-drilling business in the 1970s and put together a group of investors to buy the Texas Rangers baseball club in 1989.) Chambers and Bush share similar views on several issues, including the need for open competition among cable, wireless, satellite and telephone service providers of broadband Internet connections.

Steven Papermaster CEO, Agillion

An Austin, Texas-based venture capitalist and entrepreneur, Steven Papermaster, 42, has made it his mission to get his professional brethren more involved in politics. Last year, he helped organize the first annual "360-degree Summit," an invitation-only conference for local tech and community leaders to discuss how to improve the quality of life and promote business in the Texas capital. (Dell is on the conference advisory board and participates in the panels.) He also leads TechNet Texas, the Lone Star State’s chapter of Silicon Valley’s Technology Network, a bipartisan political lobbying group from which both Bush and Gore have drawn advisers.

Papermaster says he met Bush "casually" through some business contacts before Bush became governor. After Bush was elected in 1994, he called Papermaster to chat about the new economy. They met for more than an hour, discussing topics that ranged from running (Papermaster is a marathoner) to Austin’s high-tech growth. Later, Papermaster helped Bush lobby for a new technology curriculum at state community colleges and enact a research and development tax credit for Texas companies.

He also introduced Bush to other Austin IT execs and hosted fund-raisers during Bush’s second gubernatorial campaign. He’s been one of Bush’s money men during this presidential bid as well.

Now chairman and CEO of Agillion, an ISP for customer relationship management, Papermaster exhibited leadership potential early. When he was 15 and new to Galveston, Texas, where his family had recently moved, he organized a soccer league. A year later he started his first business, a hot dog stand.

E. Floyd Kvamme Partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers

Floyd Kvamme’s a GOP activist with close ties to the party’s trickle-down economics wing. He’s chairman of Empower America, a conservative think tank founded by, among others, President George Bush’s drug czar, William Beett (who was also Ronald Reagan’s education secretary), and leading economic supply-sider Jack Kemp (who was the elder Bush’s housing and urban development secretary). The group preaches free-market solutions to the country’s problems, advocating low taxes, school choice and allowing individuals to invest their Social Security money in the stock market. Empower America’s IT policy prescriptions reflect the current high-tech industry consensus, including free trade and more visas for technology workers. Bush is in the same camp, though Kvamme says that has little to do with his influence. The campaign and Empower America separately considered ideas from dozens of sources, he says.

Kvamme’s major contribution to the Bush campaign thus far has been as a conduit for Silicon Valley money; he was an organizer of Bush’s big June fund-raiser there. The two met in 1998, when Bush was making his second run for Texas governor and Kvamme gave him a briefing on IT policy issues. During the presidential campaign, Kvamme says he’s mostly dealt with Bush’s staff and members of Bush’s IT Advisory Council. "Some weeks we e-mail as much as daily," he says.

The 62-year-old venture capitalist has also applied his fund-raising skills to help his alma mater, the University of California Berkeley, build a new facility for its College of Engineering (where he earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1959). His wife, Jean, runs the Family Charitable Foundation, and his sons are all involved in high-tech.

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