LincolnLabs is trying to tap into the network of more libertarian-minded tech entrepreneurs who populate Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. And it's working — they've attracted support from Alexis Ohanian, a Reddit cofounder and a partner at the venture-capital firm Y Combinator. In 2012, Forbes declared Ohanian — a vocal opponent of online regulations — "mayor of the Internet."
The Reboot conference this weekend will feature speeches from Paul and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, along with recorded missives from Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Coincidentally, Netroots Nation — a conference for liberal bloggers and activists that grew out of the website Daily Kos — is also happening this weekend. But Johnson is quick to stress that unlike Netroots, Reboot is a tech conference, not a political one.
"In politics, arguments win the day," Johnson said. "In Silicon Valley, to the greatest extent possible, data and metrics settles the argument. We're focused on being results-driven. We're focused on action that's measurable rather than just rhetoric."
Over the past year, LincolnLabs has hosted "hackathons" in cities like Miami and Chicago, gathering tech-minded attendees to workshop data-driven solutions to issues like online voting, language learning in schools, city planning, and government transparency.
LincolnLabs isn't the only conservative group trying to make headway in Silicon Valley. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the largest pro-business lobby in the country — just opened its first major office outside of Washington in San Jose. Its task: to convince Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that their ideology aligns with the chamber's agenda, and to lobby on their behalf. "The U.S. Chamber's agenda IS the technology agenda," a promotional brochure insists.
"Our job is to tell the story that business is the answer, not the problem," David Chavern, the chamber's executive vice president and president of its Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation, told National Journal. "And this ecosystem out here in the Bay Area is the perfect evocation of that."
But that could be a tall order for the conservative Chamber of Commerce. On one hand, despite being one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial hubs in the U.S., Silicon Valley remains politically liberal. And culturally, Silicon Valley may be squeamish about the type of institutional power the chamber represents. The chamber advertised its new headquarters with an illustration of President Taft — who inspired the chamber's creation in 1911 — wearing Google Glass. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
"I do have some brand issues to get over," Chavern said. "The chamber is viewed as part of the establishment, and if you're in the tech sector you're used to thinking about disrupting the establishment."
David Boaz, the executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, agreed that the fiscal conservatism offered by the chamber will be a harder sell in Silicon Valley compared with other business hubs.