Utah’s tech sector takes it to the next level with new political action committee

Because Learning Founder and CEO Sunny Washington at her home in Draper on September 21, 2018. Washington is among a group of Utah tech industry veterans who announced on Tuesday the launch of a new political action committee. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – A group of Utah tech industry veterans on Tuesday announced the launch of a new political action committee, which will focus on supporting Utah legislative candidates who 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 IRS designation 527, aims to kick off 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 part of its name with the nonprofit tech sector awareness and advocacy groups Silicon Slopes / Silicon Slopes Commons , but was formed as a standalone effort.

Washington said it took a close look at the type of organizations that have the most impact on state legislative activity as chair of the Silicon Slopes Commons Public Policy Council during the last session and said it’s time for Utah’s tech sector to make its presence felt in bigger ways, including supporting candidates who 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. “Real estate agents, hospitals, banks, car dealerships, the outdoor advertising industry… these are the top five in the state right now. Utah tech isn’t even on the list. “

Washington said the non-partisan PAC Slopes will assess candidates on the basis of three “pillars” which include economic growth / innovation; current and future workforce; and economic and social mobility.

The goal of uplifting the interests of Utah’s tech community, Washington said, will focus on working on commonalities and resolving divisive issues.

“It’s about making our collective voice heard,” Washington said. “The spectrum of political thought in Utah’s tech arena spans the gamut and the people we support will reflect that.

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

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

Two years ago, Utah’s two largest tech-focused industry groups, Silicon Slopes and the Utah Technology Council, joined together to form an ubër organization to work on behalf of issues important to tech companies.

It’s about making our collective voice heard. The spectrum of political thought in Utah’s tech arena spans the gamut and the people we support will reflect that.

– Sunny Washington

The alignment combined Silicon Slopes’ mission as an education, community development and outreach organization with the advocacy of technology consulting focused on trade and public policy for an innovation industry of more than 6 000 companies and directly and indirectly employs more than 300,000 Utahns.

Silicon Slopes built a large following and attracted tens of thousands to its annual tech summit before COVID-19 changed the world of in-person events, while the Utah Technology Council brought together its 400 member companies.

Each entity’s different tax structures – Silicon Slopes as 501 (c) (3) and the Utah Technology Council, renamed Silicon Slopes Commons, as 501 (c) (6) – define what each non-profit organization profit can and cannot be done in the course of business. While Silicon Slopes is limited in scope to educational efforts and certain advocacy, the (c) (6) designation of the Commons group allows for broader lobbying and direct involvement in advocating for public policy issues in as a business organization.

Now, Slopes PAC adds the ability to vet and support applicants, a process that Washington says will take place under the direction of a board of directors 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 continued success of our industry.

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

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