Greg Gianforte’s slam drives home intersection of tech, politics

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Ben Jacobs claims Montana GOP candidate Greg Gianforte “body slammed” him after he asked about the latest CBO score. A Buzzfeed reporter confirmed the account saying she heard a loud crash and saw his feet fly in the air. USA TODAY


SAN FRANCISCO — It was the body slam charge felt around the political and tech world, and it happened in Montana, where the great wealth generated from a two-decade tech boom backed a fierce campaign for U.S. Congress.

Greg Gianforte, the GOP House candidate who was cited for allegedly assaulting a reporter on election eve , funded his conservative political career with the sale of his customer relationship management company, RightNow Technologies, to Oracle for $1.5 billion in 2011. Before that, he sold software company Brightwork Development to then-McAfee Associates for $10 million in 1994.

At the same time, newly politically active tech workers, hailing largely from the San Francisco Bay Area and other tech hubs, pumped money into the campaign for his Democratic  opponent, musician Rob Quist. It’s just one more sign of how the riches of this sector are backing political ambitions on both sides of the aisle.

On a national scale, the election in Montana was considered a gauge of President Donald Trump’s influence, with whom Gianforte has aligned his political views since Trump’s win. The president made a robocall on behalf of Gianforte and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, campaigned with him last month. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vt.) stumped for Quist.

The millionaire Gianforte’s anti-abortion views, his support of Focus on the Family and the conservative Heritage Foundation, and his family foundation’s contributions to the creationist institution Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum, run to the polar-opposite of tech.

“It’s as much about winning seats (for Democrats) as an anti-Gianforte initiative,” says Jessica Alter, an entrepreneur who co-founded Tech for Campaigns, a San Francisco and New York nonprofit that has helped the Quist campaign by matching it highly skilled workers in social media marketing and data analysis. “But we obviously don’t approve of his views on abortion and health care (he opposes the Affordable Care Act).”

Late Wednesday, a reporter for Britain’s The Guardian newspaper claimed he was “body slammed” by Gianforte after he tried to interview the candidate, a scenario corroborated by a Fox News reporter in the same room. Gianforte denied the charges, detailing a different series of events. The local county sheriff said its investigation determined there was a probable cause to cite Gianforte for misdemeanor assault, and three Montana newspapers pulled their endorsement.

In a statement before polls closed, the campaign blamed the “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.” It did not return an email seeking a request for comment.

Gianforte, 56, who failed in his bid for governor last year  while distancing himself from then-candidate Trump, made his money far from the great outdoors of Montana. It was in Silicon Valley that RightNow gained fame before it was bought by Oracle. But Gianforte built the company in Bozeman without external help or capital. He shared his business philosophy in his book, Bootstrapping Your Business: Start and Grow a Successful Company.

“He was focused, hard-driving and assertive as any good CEO should be,” said Sabrina Horn, a communications executive who worked with Gianforte in the early 2000s.

Others who knew him in the tech industry as he grew RightNow also describe him as assertive, as well as charming. But he could also hold a grudge and manifested flashes of anger — especially if you disagreed.