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Utah tech sector levels up with new political action committee

SHARE Utah tech sector levels up with new political action committee
Because Learning founder and CEO Sunny Washington is photographed at her home in Draper.

Because Learning founder and CEO Sunny Washington is photographed at her home in Draper on Sept. 21, 2018.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

A group of Utah tech industry veterans announced the launch of a new political action committee on Tuesday, one that will focus on backing Utah legislative candidates that support issues important to the state’s burgeoning technology and innovation sector.

Organizers say the new Slopes PAC, which will file taxes and reports under the IRS’ 527 designation, is aiming to kick-start its work with a campaign to attract 60 individual and corporate donors in its first 60 days.

Utah tech veteran and Slopes PAC CEO Sunny Washington said the committee shares a portion of its name with the Silicon Slopes/Silicon Slopes Commons nonprofit tech sector outreach and advocacy groups, but was formed as a stand-alone effort.

Washington said she got a close look at what kind of organizations were having the most impact on state legislative activity as chairwoman of the Silicon Slopes Commons public policy board during the last session and said it’s time for the Utah tech sector to make its presence felt in bigger ways, including backing candidates that will champion causes important to the industry.

“I don’t like it, but the way the system is set up favors the industries that spend the most money,” Washington said. “Realtors, hospitals, banks, auto dealers, the outdoor advertising industry ... those are the top five in the state right now. Utah tech doesn’t even make the list.”

Washington said the nonpartisan Slopes PAC will assess candidates based on three “pillars” that include economic growth/innovation; current and future workforce; and economic and social mobility.

The goal of elevating the interests of the Utah tech community, Washington said, will be focused on working on commonalities and navigating divisive issues.

“This is about making our collective voice heard,” Washington said. “The range of political thought in the Utah tech arena runs the gamut and who we support will reflect that.

“Our goal is always to represent the best voice and the best ideas, regardless of party.”

The new PAC represents a leveling up of sorts for a fast-growing Utah tech sector that has become an economic behemoth, accounting directly and indirectly for 1 in 7 Utah jobs and contributing tens of billions to the annual state GDP.

Two years ago, the two biggest tech-focused industry groups in Utah, Silicon Slopes and the Utah Technology Council combined to form an ubër organization to work on behalf of issues important to technology businesses.

The alignment combined Silicon Slopes’ mission as an education, community-building and outreach organization with the technology council’s trade-focused, public policy advocacy for an innovation industry that numbers over 6,000 companies and directly and indirectly employs over 300,000 Utahns.

Silicon Slopes has built a wide following and was drawing tens of thousands to its annual Tech Summit before COVID-19 altered the world of in-person events, while the Utah Technology Council brought its 400 member companies to the mix.

The differing tax structures of each entity — Silicon Slopes as a 501(c)(3) and the Utah Technology Council, renamed Silicon Slopes Commons, as a 501(c)(6) — defines what each nonprofit can and cannot do in the course of business. While Silicon Slopes is limited in its outreach to education efforts and some advocacy, the (c)(6) designation of the Commons group allows for broader lobbying and direct involvement in advocating on behalf of public policy issues as a trade organization.

Now, Slopes PAC adds the ability to vet and back candidates, a process Washington said will happen under the direction of a governing board that includes a wide variety of voices from the tech industry.

“We love this state,” Washington said in a statement. “We are committed to working with current and future leaders to ensure that there is a thriving ecosystem to support the continuation of our industry’s success.

“Our goal is to make Utah the best place to grow our businesses and community.”