Tech Titans Tackle the Trump Problem

High-profile Silicon Valley executives last week attended a secret summit with GOP leaders at the American Enterprise Institute’s World Forum in a bid to put the brakes on the political campaign of Donald Trump, according to a report published Monday in The Huffington Post.

Trump has dominated the Republican presidential race with highly charged rhetoric and out-of-the-box campaign promises.

Participants in the AEI meeting reportedly included Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google cofounder Larry Page, Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and Napster cofounder Sean Parker.

Major Republican congressional leaders also were in attendance, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., and Sens. Tim Scott, S.C., Rob Portman, Ohio, and Ben Sasse, Neb.

The meeting reportedly included a presentation by political consultant Karl Rove on focus group findings that indicated Trump was not seen as presidential.

Off the Record

“Since the AEI tends to back conventional, mainstream conservatives like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, parsing the dwindling opportunities to stop Trump was probably the subject of numerous discussions,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

AEI declined to offer any specifics on the confab, noting that it does not take positions on issues and therefore is open to various ideologies and points of view.

“To maintain intellectual freedom and free discourse, the event is private and off the record; therefore, we don’t comment further on the content or attendees,” spokesperson Judy Mayka told the E-Commerce Times.

The agenda of the forum will be available in the coming weeks via House and Senate ethics filings, she added.

Political Agenda

Tech leaders have a variety of political concerns, including immigration, trade and security issues.

Apple has been facing off with the FBI, which wants to access data locked in an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack.

Trump has called out Apple for refusing to cooperate with the agency, and told Fox & Friends that assisting with the investigation was a matter of common sense. He followed that up with a call for a boycott of Apple products during a campaign rally in South Carolina.

Trump also has called out Apple for the outsourcing of its computer products, many of which are assembled in pieces overseas and returned to the U.S. for final assembly.

Immigration and Trade

Besides his threats of cracking down on Chinese trade imbalances, Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric has raised a lot of fear in Silicon Valley, as many of those companies are dependent on importing engineers and other high-tech specialists using H-1B visas, noted Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“Trump has positioned job and trade issues as USA vs. the world, while most tech companies look at trade as a global win-win,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

There is fear in Silicon Valley that offshore cash may be repatriated forcibly, Pund-IT’s King told the E-Commerce Times. Apple may have US$190 billion in assets overseas, and Google may have more than $30 billion.

“Repatriating it would require the companies to pay around 30 percent in taxes, so they have long argued for a special tax holiday that would allow them to bring the cash back home at a far reduced rate,” he said.

The Obama administration has opposed that, because the last time a tax holiday was granted at the request of the tech industry, companies used the repatriated money to pay dividends and buy back stock rather than to create jobs, King pointed out.

Musk, one of the leading developers of alternative-fuel cars, has expressed concerns about tax credits for alternative vehicles and clean energy products, according to King. In December, Musk called on world leaders to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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