Utah tech companies set up a PAC to boost their legislative influence

Slopes PAC hopes to use campaign contributions to promote policies favored by Utah’s technology community.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) An overflow crowd takes in a presentation at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. On Tuesday Silicon Slopes announced the creation of a new political action committee to give the tech sector greater influence in state politics.

Utah’s booming tech companies have a new vehicle to pump money into political causes.

Slopes PAC, a political action committee, launched Tuesday with goals to support candidates and organizations focused on economic growth, developing the workforce and social and economic mobility.

CEO Sunny Washington, who has spent 20 years working in tech businesses in Utah’s Silicon Slopes, said the technology community deserves to have a “seat at the table” in legislative discussions because of the industry’s economic impact and the number of Utahns who work in tech.

“I want to make sure that our community is well-represented,” Washington said. “I hope that the Legislature welcomes the opportunity to work with us and hear our voice.”

PACs raise money to influence elections and must disclose to the Utah Office of Elections within the Lieutenant Governor’s Office who donated to their fund and how they spent their money.

PACs can be formed to support the interests of specific industries such as agriculture or mining, the interests of specific companies or the election of specific candidates. Because the PAC won’t be funding candidates in federal elections, it doesn’t face the contribution limits enforced by the Federal Election Commission.

Technology founders and employees tend to be fiscally conservative and socially progressive, Washington said, but the PAC won’t necessarily follow a partisan bent. It will push to change the status quo in the Legislature, but it will also support politics focused on finding the middle ground, which she called “the Utah way.

The PAC will take input from people in the tech community, and decisions will be up to a governing board.

“We don’t want to work in a vacuum,” Washington said. “It’s important for us to hear those voices from all different angles, from rural Utah to urban Utah because tech is everywhere.”

The group hopes to receive 60 donations from individuals and corporations within its first 60 days.

Washington, who is also the public policy chair of the nonprofit Silicon Slopes Commons, said lobbying groups for Utah’s tech industry have been brushed aside by legislators in the past, but the financial component of the PAC will give the industry more influence.

“There were a few instances where we spoke up and there was pushback,” Washington said. “I heard, kind of more behind the scenes, a legislator saying, ‘Tech companies should stay in their lane’ or ‘Don’t be involved in issues that concern tech.’”

The influence of money on politics has long been controversial, which Washington noted. She said the laissez-faire system of campaign finance in Utah “perplexes” her, but that she wants to use the power that’s available to make positive change.

“I want to spend the energy making a difference and not trying to change a system that’s already in place,” Washington said. “We’ll play by the rules that are established already rather than try to fight them right now.”