Computer Glitterate

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Computer Glitterate

He helped win back Silicon Valley support for Clinton — and vice versa.

by Julie Pitta

#128 Steven P. Jobs, 42, Palo Alto, Calif. Party: D. $150,000 total contributions.

View Jobs’ itemized contributions.

Steve Jobs makes for a peculiar political activist; he’s reportedly not even registered to vote.

What’s more, despite having donated heavily (including $100,000 to the DNC) in 1996, he appears to want little for his money. Friends say Jobs just loves the perks that come with being a top contributor — like, say, his White House sleepover.

The Silicon Valley folk hero who founded Apple Computer in his 20s fell from grace in his 30s. But he bounced back a couple of years ago with Pixar, the company that created the computer animation wizardry of Toy Story. Now 42, Jobs is worth about $470 million, according to Forbes, and has left few ambitions unfulfilled. Except, perhaps, broader fame — which would explain why he would help Clinton reclaim Silicon Valley support he lost during his first term.

Many high-tech leaders had endorsed Clinton in 1992 over George Bush, a president who, the mostly apolitical crowd joked, couldn’t differentiate between computer chips and potato chips. But some turned away from Clinton after he vetoed a 1995 bill to discourage securities lawsuits. With their inherent volatility, Silicon Valley companies have been plagued by suits from shareholders who claim to have been misled about the value of their stock. (Although Clinton vetoed the higher hurdle for such suits — at the behest of securities litigator #126 Bill Lerach — he sent a clear, some would say cynical, signal that he would not fight the inevitable override, and the bill did eventually become law.)

As the re-election campaign heated up, Clinton realized his winking veto hadn’t done the trick. Sandy Robertson (#21), chairman of the San Francisco investment firm Robertson, Stephens & Co., who stayed close to Clinton even when many executives turned from him, met with the president last July. At issue was Proposition 211, a California state initiative that would have made securities lawsuits easier to file in state courts. Robertson says, “I warned Clinton: ‘You’ve lost these people unless you come out against 211.’ But I didn’t expect him to do it publicly since it was a state issue.”

Yet that’s just what Clinton did, right before a celebratory reconciliation dinner at Jobs’ Palo Alto home. (Jobs had sought #42 David Geffen’s advice on how to arrange such things.) The fete, attended by more than a dozen of Silicon Valley’s top executives, was followed two weeks later by a conference call to Clinton from 75 Silicon Valley executives, gushing their renewed support for the president.

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