Its deep pockets make Silicon Valley a prime locale for political fundraising on both sides of the aisle. But last week, the Bay Area was squarely in the sights of a politician from the other side of the Pond.
It seems that the French Parliament now includes legislators who represent not only people who actually live in the country, but across the Diaspora as well. One of those seats represents the entirety of North America, which you’d have to think of as one of the broadest Congressional districts in the world. But that hasn’t stopped folks from lining up for the job.
Including Frédéric Lefebvre, a former official in the French economic ministry and aide to ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy, a business-friendly conservative, worked to strengthen ties to the U.S. before losing his re-election bid to socialist François Hollande two years ago.
Lefebvre’s U.S. advisors at the Potomac Square Group, an East Coast public affairs firm that includes longtime Silicon Valley operative Joe Trippi, are casting the Parliamentary race as something of a referendum on Hollande. Lefebvre actually lost an earlier run for the seat — getting pounded last year by a Socialist candidate — but her victory was annulled in February after a campaign finance flap.
Lefebvre carries some baggage; for one thing, he lives in Paris, not in the sprawling district he hopes to represent. During his last campaign for the seat, some rivals called him a carpetbagger. And it’s unclear whether several current scandals surrounding Sarkozy — including questions about his own campaign finances, ties to Libya and lavish gifts to President Obama — will hurt Lefebvre. Then again, Sarkozy remains very popular among many in France, and he’s dropped hints about seeking the presidency again.
Lefebvre told me he blames Hollande for stagnating the French economy, and he’s looking to French expats like SoftTech’s Jeff Clavier for the expertise to get things back on track. “I love the dynamic here,” he said, noting that as Sarkozy’s enterprise minister, he worked with startup incubators in California. These days, he’s a lawyer who helps French companies invest in the U.S.
Census data I mined suggests there are about 16,000 French citizens in California; that’s more than 10 percent of the North American total. In addition, dozens of Silicon Valley tech CEOs hail from France. And one can imagine that French politicians are as eager to court them as our home-grown politicos are to woo the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt. Lefebvre joked that if any French techies wanted to cut him checks, “It will be good news for me, but that’s not the reason of my presence there.”
Lefebvre expects to return to the valley before Election Day on May 25. A likely runoff will be held June 8.