Y Combinator’s Sam Altman seeking California political candidates

Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Sam Altman is putting his money where his mouth is: politics.

The president of tech incubator Y Combinator is looking for a few good candidates to run in the 2018 California elections, and he’s willing to help fund their campaigns, he announced this week.

“I want to help candidates who believe in creating prosperity through technology, economic fairness, and maintaining personal liberty,” Altman says on The United Slate, a website he has launched to describe his effort — which also includes addressing California’s housing crisis.

Altman has been talking politics and policy a lot lately: He is already funding a basic-income experiment in Oakland. He has likened Donald Trump the candidate to Hitler, backed a website that tracked President Trump’s first 100 days in office, participated in protests against Trump’s travel ban, and has called on tech companies to “take a stand” against some of the president’s actions. A registered Democrat, he has traveled around the country this year to talk to people who voted for Trump because he said he felt out of touch with those voters.

Altman, a Stanford dropout, does have this in common with Trump: He doesn’t think much of government, either.

“It rigs the system in favor of a small number of special interests and campaign donors at the cost of everyone else,” he writes. “In the process, our government has gotten us into an unsustainable financial bubble and has given up on fiscal responsibility itself. California is on a trajectory to go bankrupt.”

He says technology, which he calls his obsession, is key to our future.

“There is a massive technological shift coming to society, and we can either benefit from it or be hurt by it,” Altman says on his website.

Altman is particularly interested in candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and for the U.S. Congress, whether they are independents, Democrats or Republicans, he says. Although he flirted with the idea of running for governor himself, he seems to be more interested in finding another candidate for that job.

“I’m not satisfied with the current choices,” Altman told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t want to make this about dumping on specific people, [but] I don’t think any of the current candidates are the best we could do.”

As for housing, “I would also like to help with a California ballot initiative to address the cost of living, and particularly the cost of housing, in the state,” he says on his website, which also lists 10 policy goals. The goals relate to health care, clean energy, education, jobs, infrastructure and more.

It’s unclear how much Altman is willing to spend. He told the Washington Post he didn’t know, and “I don’t think it’s what will determine success or failure.”


Photo: Sam Altman, newly appointed president of Y Combinator, at Y Combinator in Mountain View on April 24, 2014. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)


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  • joel_in_oakland

    Sam doesn’t say why he thinks CA’s on a bankruptcy trajectory, not here, not on his website. States can certainly go bankrupt, but I’d think The Great Kansas Experiment would be more to the point, and CA’s growth looks great compared to that fiasco. Granted, that’s a very low bar, but it *does* make clear which road *not* to go down: tax cuts for the wealthy, regulation cuts for business, and safety net cuts for the afflicted, a.k.a. one particular political party’s agenda for over 30 years and invalidated time and again since then. (After much trumpeting that Kansas would be great experiment that would finally give clear, undeniable validation for the GOP forever-policy, now that its failed so badly even Kansas – Kansas! – Republicans finally vetoed Gov Brownback’s attempts to keep it going. Of course the party line is now that The Great Experiment actually never really meant anything, ever – don’t look over there).

    It’s true that both parties reject anything that upsets the apple cart unless they see a significant advantage to doing so, as we’ve seen here (as elsewhere) with opposition to non-political re-redistricting and CA’s revised primary system. (Blessings to the Republican who brought this about at great expense to his own political career).

    The wealthy and politically connected aren’t going to get their greasy hands off the levers of power any time soon – never, without a long, very nasty struggle. It’ll take, among a lot of other things, one or more advisors or leaders who are experts on the Inside Game. And I hope he gets a good economics advisor or two, as well – someone who understands that while states can go bankrupt, countries whose debt is the currency they control (like the US) cannot – unlike Zimbabwe, Argentina, Mexico & the rest of the usual right-wing examples whose debt is in US Dollars, Euros, etc. Bad economic things certainly can happen to the US, Japan, etc, in the form of inflation, deflation, depression & unemployment, if the national debt &/or the trade balance get too out of hand, but bankruptcy is not one of them. Way too many people don’t understand this, and a great many people’s salaries seem to depend on keeping things this way. I hope Sam/his advisors aren’t in the former group.

    What does help create sustainable growth is investment in *productive* infrastructure, among other things, both for CA and for the nation. It seems that Sam does get that. So I have some hope, but it’s certainly sinking fast, regarding the general picture.