Over the past six years, Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive John A. Young has given $15,500 to congressional candidates, almost all to Republicans. In the mid-1980s, he headed President Reagan's Commission on Competitiveness. So you'd expect to find him pulling for George Bush. Instead, Young has just joined the growing wave of corporate leaders defecting to Bill Clinton.
Most boardrooms are still Bush country. But what was lukewarm business support for the President in many cases is turning into open backing for his challenger. Clinton may muster more business endorsements than any Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. On a Sept. 15 trip to San Jose, Calif., the Arkansas governor won the backing of 20 top Silicon Valley executives, including Young, Apple Computer Inc. Chairman John Sculley, and Tandem Computers Inc. ceo James G. Treybig. More announcements could come on Sept. 21, when Clinton plans to meet with a group of business backers from around the country in Chicago.
HIGH-TECH TARGET. Why the defections? For one, executives are disenchanted after four years of economic stagnation. They are distressed by Bush's failure to focus on improving U.S. competitiveness. And many were turned off by the GOP convention's fix on "family values" and a right-wing agenda. "There was a strategy to distract us from the real issues," says Clinton convert Edward R. McCracken, chairman of Silicon Graphics Inc., a lifelong moderate Republican.
There aren't enough ceos, of course, to make a difference in the election, and Clinton doesn't need their money now. But aides believe that support from business leaders allays fears of the public that Democrats can't be trusted with management of the economy and helps deflect GOP charges that Clinton is just another tax-and-spend Democrat. The more times Clinton aides can get traditionally conservative executives to jump to their candidate, the more acceptable it becomes for other executives to break ranks. That's why the Little Rockers hope to stage more San Jose-type events--especially in such places as Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, and North Carolina, where the race is close. Business rallies have already taken place in Boston and New Jersey, where Kings Super Markets Inc. founder Allen Bildner, a major GOP contributor, endorsed Clinton.
To win corporate support, the Little Rockers have set up a three-tiered network of business recruiters pitching to major corporations, midsize companies, and small, entrepreneurial outfits. Investment manager and Clinton organizer Jonathan M. Silver says the campaign has so far signed up more than 200 top execs from "fast-growing, 21st century, high-tech kinds of companies."
The Silicon Valley effort has succeeded, in part, thanks to California's shell-shocked economy and the failure of the GOP Establishment to back high-tech favorite Tom Campbell in his unsuccessful bid for a GOP Senate nomination. Clinton running mate Al Gore, a promoter of policies to foster high-tech industries, is also a big plus. And Lawrence J. Ellison, presi-dent of Oracle Systems Corp., says he's backing Clinton because the Administration doesn't intervene to protect U.S. companies from unfair foreign competition.
Clinton organizer Kenneth D. Brody, a limited partner in Goldman, Sachs & Co, says the economy is his man's best recruiter. But something else is at work. Once, even executives who were Democrats didn't always admit it, let alone Republicans who supported a Democrat. But this year's different: "The polls make people think they may have a winner."