PLANK OCTOBER 26, 2012
Apple's latest earnings are in, and they're characteristically whopping: With a big bump from the iPhone 5, the world's most valuable company has brought in $156.5 billion this year. That's more than Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined.
When it comes to giving that money back out to political campaigns, however, Apple lags far behind its competitors. Apple's 60,400 employees have given way less than those at other corporate behemoths: Just $249,544 this year across all races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That's peanuts compared to Microsoft's 94,000 employees, who kicked in $1.27 million, and Google's 36,000 employees, who've donated $833,297. Facebook's 3,900 employees gave the most on a per-person basis, at $42.75 each. Even the struggling Yahoo!'s employees were more generous, donating $6.57 each to Apple's $4.13. (All of them, as is typical for Silicon Valley, skew heavily towards Barack Obama in presidential donations.)
Why are Apple employees so stingy, compared to their techie competitors? You could look to Apple's retail employees at 383 stores, who make a paltry wage compared the value of the merchandise they're peddling. But overall, Apple's salaries aren't shabby, floating 15 percent above the IT industry average.
It may have more to do with corporate culture. Most corporations worth more than many sovereign nations tend to make their presence known inside the Beltway. But while Google, Facebook and Microsoft blanket the Hill with lobbyists, Apple barely maintained an office, dropping less than a million this year to date—likely a small fraction of what it’s paying its lawyers for drawn-out patent litigation. It rarely joins trade associations, and is one of the only major corporate players without a political action committee to back candidates it likes. (The decision to oppose an initiative that would've banned gay marriage in California was a one-off exception).
This culture was largely the result of Steve Jobs, who didn't believe in philanthropy and discouraged employees from involving themselves in anything that would distract them from work. That's slowly changing—one of the first things Tim Cook did as the new CEO was to match employees' charitable contributions up to $10,000 per year. But journalist Adam Lashinsky, who last year published the most thorough treatment of Appledom to date, thinks people still might still be leery of political giving, which requires donors to disclose their employer.
"It's my hunch that some Apple people would be concerned to put their company name on a filing that would then be attributed back to them," Lashinsky says. "I think the mentality is in place for them not wanting their people to be affiliated to other entities."
But when it comes to influencing key legislation in a Republican Congress, Google's former D.C. policy chief Andrew McLaughlin found that the fact that his company's deep-blue shade was sometimes counterproductive. "In one way it was kind of a headache that Google employees gave so much money to Democrats," he remembers.
If Apple’s trying to burnish its reputation on the Hill—not a bad idea, considering the increased scrutiny it’s facing lately—its workforce’s political giving probably isn’t the place to start.