Super Tuesday is here and the world is voting. For people in the tech industry, a few issues are close to their hearts that haven’t gotten a lot of attention from the candidates or the media. From opening up immigration rules for foreign professionals to tax breaks, the candidates have said varying things. Here is a rundown of the candidates on Silicon Valley’s most critical concerns.
Geektime grade: A
Of the American presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton is taking a strong lead on issues close to Silicon Valley’s heart. The only candidate that would possibly compete with her in our book is Bloomberg, but he hasn’t joined the race.
Tax breaks for startups: Clinton proposed capital gains tax reforms at an NYU speech in July that would help “innovative startups” and encourage investors who are “patiently nurturing the next disruptive innovator.”
Smart cities and infrastructure: Hillary Clinton is big on smart cities. Her personal site illustrates an infrastructure plan that would give “all American households access to world-class broadband and creating connected ‘smart cities’ with infrastructure that’s part of tomorrow’s Internet of Things” that includes investments in structures like smart electrical grids, smart ports and airports and smart roads for the “connected cars of tomorrow.”
Professional visas: Clinton has been rhetorically supportive of increasing the H-1B visa cap in the past, saying in 2007, “I also want to reaffirm my commitment to the H-1B visa program and to increase the current cap. Foreign skilled workers contribute greatly to our U.S. technological development.” She did go along with the Obama Administration’s 2009 effort to restrict Indian visas though.
Net neutrality: Hillary Clinton wrote in Quartz in October that she wanted “enforcing strong net neutrality rules” that would “enable startups to challenge the status quo.”
Geektime grade: B+
Sanders seems acutely aware of certain issues but deafeningly silent on others. He speaks at length about small businesses and tends to demonize larger corporations, which might be a red flag for people in Silicon Valley aware of the fact small startups can grow extremely quickly. Otherwise, his focus on infrastructure updates and expanding foreign professional visa programs seem right up the alley of technologist voters.
Tax breaks for startups: The Sanders campaign has not made any references to startup tax rates or the capital gains from investments specifically in small businesses with high growth potential. It is difficult to know how he would treat technology companies in this regard.
Smart cities and infrastructure: Bernie Sanders’ proposed January 2015 Rebuild America Act invests “$5 billion a year to expand high-speed broadband networks into underserved and unserved areas and to boost speeds and capacity in served areas” and supports billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades for highways, airports and water, among other priorities.
Professional visas: Sanders supports H-1B reforms and raising the required wage for visa holders, presumably to offer them fairer wages. Most notably for startups, Sanders would let professional visa holders move between companies if the opportunity presented itself. He voted in 2013 on a bill that would have increased the number of visas to between 110,000 and 180,000 a year, far beyond the 65,000 given out by lottery.
“Binding workers to a specific employer or not allowing their family members to work creates a situation rife for abuse and exacerbates an already unequal relationship between the employer and the employee,” Sanders notes.
Net neutrality: Bernie Sanders says net neutrality has prohibited big Internet corporations from favoring or blocking certain viewpoints or websites, “which ensures everyone in the U.S. and around the world has the same access to the same information.”
Intellectual property and patents: The pro-Sanders site feelthebern.org states that the current patent system is being used by large corporations in ways that “stifle innovation” and lock down innovators in legal battles as patents are bought and sold. While Bernie has focused largely on pharmaceutical patents, it is hard to tell how he would treat technology patents.
Geektime grade: Hasn’t turned in his assignments
Trump is absurdly vague on a number of issues and often contradicts himself. That is apparent on his position on visas for foreign professionals. His words on infrastructure have also not referenced integrating digital infrastructure into national updates.
Tax breaks for startups: Donald Trump’s platform declares “too many companies – from great American brands to innovative startups – are leaving America, either directly or through corporate inversions,” a phenomenon he plans to fight with a flat 15% corporate tax. He has not offered any suggestions of a tax break specifically for technology companies of any kind, at least not yet.
Smart cities and infrastructure: Trump has not outlined specific policies for things like infrastructure. But he has certainly said a lot of things. During a December Republican debate, he remarked it would have been better to spend “$4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems … our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had” instead of on foreign wars. He also claimed he would fix American infrastructure under budget without cost overruns. None of those statements have referenced the use of smart technologies and connected cities, however.
Professional visas: Donald Trump wants to restrict H-1B visas and require a higher wage for foreign workers to deter hiring them. But again, his consistency is a major issue here.
When asked during a Republican debate about Mark Zuckerberg’s initiative to increase the number of visas given out, he said something that seems to contradict his platform: “In fact, frankly, he’s complaining about the fact that we’re losing some of the most talented people. They go to Harvard. They go to Yale. They go to Princeton. They come from another country and they’re immediately sent out. I am all in favor of keeping these talented people here so they can go to work in Silicon Valley.”
Net neutrality: ?
Intellectual property and patents: In an October interview with Breitbart Tech, he made a quick statement on the subject, saying, “As President, my goal would be to ensure that the intellectual property produced in America remains the property of those who produce it. Letting other countries steal our property will not happen on my watch.”
Geektime grade: B-
Rubio is the most tech friendly of the Republican candidates with extremely favorable views on professional visas and saying some encouraging things about extending extra tax help to startups, though without specifics. He seems to be out of step though on net neutrality and public access WiFi. On the other hand, he has said many favorable things about the sharing economy, saying many positive things about Uber.
Tax breaks for startups: Rubio wants to cap small business taxes at 25% while also cutting regulations on the sharing economy and other “innovators.”
Smart cities and infrastructure: His position on updating infrastructure hasn’t been spelled out, but his opinion on public utilities providing internet service (that might be critical to connected cities) is pretty clear. Rubio categorically opposes public broadband companies, signing a 2014 letter in the Senate opposing FCC help for public companies operating in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina. Those companies have contended with industry lobbyists trying to limit their ability to operate.
Professional visas: Rubio supports more H-1B visas, stating on his official Senate website, “We will also expand the highly skilled H1-B visa program from 65,000 to 110,000 to fill jobs Americans can’t do. To accomplish the move to a more merit-based immigration system, we eliminate certain categories of family preferences that have allowed for chain migration and completely eliminate the diversity visa lottery, among other reforms” and “staple green cards” to the diplomas of Chinese and Indian students who get their professional educations in the U.S. in order to benefit the American economy.
Net neutrality: He’s gone into more detail about how he would “reallocate wireless spectrum controlled by the federal government” to help public internet companies, though that could benefit monopolies like Comcast rather than smaller tech startups.
Geektime grade: D
Cruz has said very little about startups. Where he has touched on issues important to Silicon Valley businesses, his tone has been out of step with exception to his general approach to taxes.
Tax breaks for startups: Cruz wants to repeal current corporate taxes and replace them with a flat tax (similar to his position on personal income taxes) in order to stop “driving jobs and business overseas.”
Smart cities and infrastructure: Cruz follows a similar oppositional line to Rubio on net neutrality and public broadband companies.
Net neutrality: Ted Cruz called net neutrality “Obamacare for the internet” in a November 2014 tweet, and Marco Rubio and Donald Trump have also spoken against net neutrality.
Professional visas: Cruz’s H-1B position may be a red flag for startups. He plans a 180-day suspension of H-1B issuances to audit how companies have used them over the last 15 years, and then adding a 1-2 year delay between laying off an American and granting visas for foreign replacements, issuing penalties to companies that “misuse” the system and imposing stricter accreditation rules for foreign degrees.
Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton vs. Ted Cruz vs. Marco Rubio
As the rumor mill continues to turn, other names might be worth analyzing, including former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg. Former Minnesota governor and steel-chair tossing bodybuilder Jesse Ventura has threatened to join the race if Sanders gets eliminated, while some want to draft Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee if no candidate has a majority of delegates by the party’s national convention.
For now, these are the five names that are in the race. Many of these policy positions are vague and deserve hashing out.