Worried that IT experts seem to typically vote Democratic, the Koch Brothers have spearheaded hackathons to lure techies into the conservatarian sphere.
The gathering was the first inaugural conference put on by Lincoln Labs, a year-old club of politically-minded technologists started by three millennials with backgrounds in Republican politics: Garrett Johnson, a former aide to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Aaron Ginn, who worked on Mitt Romney’s digital team; and Chris Abrams, who runs digital operations for Vanity Fair magazine. The group — which adopts the label “conservatarian,” a popular buzzword for the ideological coalition between conservatives and libertarians — was born in 2013 in the aftermath of the failed Republican attempt to regain control of the White House, in which President Obama’s mastery of digital campaigning and data collection trounced Republican efforts to match it.
Over the past year, Lincoln Labs has grown to represent the epicenter of the right-wing tech scene as it struggles to make a dent in an industry traditionally dominated by the political left.
For most of Lincoln Lab’s existence, the group has relied upon financial backing and support from the orbit of activist groups that are part of Charles and David Koch’s donor network. Last weekend’s conference was sponsored by an array of groups from the Koch network: Generation Opportunity, its youth outreach group; the Libre Initiative, its Hispanic organization; Americans for Prosperity, its lead political advocacy arm; and i360, which collects data on behalf of the Koch network. Microsoft, Google, and Stampede, a political consulting firm that provides campaign services to conservative candidates, also served as sponsors for the event.
Predictably, the icons of 21st century conservativism, politicians like Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, made appearances to woo techies to the GOP side.
For Paul, a possible future Republican presidential candidate, the trip to Northern California was an opportunity to meet with tech entrepreneurs from both sides of the aisle, a group Paul hopes shares his antagonism for unbridled government spying and questionable data collecting practices.
“I come out here and people say, ‘Oh, I love President Obama. We’re all for President Obama, we’re from the tech community.’ Why?” Paul asked in his address at the conference. “Why would you be? He’s not for innovation. He’s not for freedom. He’s for the protectionism crowd.”
Paul went on to challenge the hackers to develop apps, “so the marketplace can figure what the idiots and trolls in Washington will never come up with.”
Makes you get kind of warm and fuzzy all over, doesn’t it?