Michelle Obama to tap wealthy women tech entrepreneurs for campaign donations

SAN FRANCISCO - When first lady Michelle Obama comes to San Francisco Saturday on a fundraising trip for the Democratic Party, she doesn't plan the typical meet-and-greets.

One of her events will include a small roundtable in the San Francisco home of Alison Pincus, co-owner of the upscale Web marketplace One Kings Lane. The high-dollar event is aimed at bringing entrepreneurs and innovation leaders -- mostly women -- together with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to discuss issues, including policies that impact technology and the economy.

The serious question-and-answer session looks like a far cry from the quaint 2012 "Women's Victory Tea" fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney hosted by his wife, Ann Romney, for Silicon Valley women.

The gathering of about 25 high-end donors at Pincus' fundraiser is a calculated move to attract and tap into the new generation of tech money -- especially female entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley whose support has become increasingly valuable to political campaigns at both the federal and state level.

Pincus, who donated $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund in the last election cycle, is one half of a Bay Area tech royalty couple who have recently become players on the political front. Her husband, Mark Pincus, is the co-founder of social-media game service Zynga -- and he is also a major Democratic donor.

The high-profile role for Pincus -- who not long ago might have been wooed for her husband's connections -- underscores how women are increasingly becoming A-listers in campaign finance.

"We've been having conversations with women who are showing an interest in politics," including endorsing candidates and being major donors, because "they think it's another way to have an impact," said Shaherose Charania, 32, president and co-founder of Women 2.0, a San Francisco-based business aimed at boosting women's tech and innovation profiles. "They're leveraging a role."

That doesn't mean some of the more traditional fundraising routes are being abandoned. Obama's weekend visit in the Bay Area will also include a Saturday-evening reception at the home of Belvedere attorney Michael Moradzadeh and his life, Noelle Leca.

On Sunday, the first lady will star at a larger brunch event for the Democratic National Campaign Committee at the Fairmont in San Francisco; tickets are expected to go for $500 to $32,000 at the event hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pincus' involvement in Obama's events marks a high-profile step for an entrepreneur who has a growing influence in the tech and business community.

She and co-founder Susan Feldman started One Kings Lane in 2008 with an investment of $100,000, a rock-bottom amount in the tech world.

It now has 8 million subscribers, many of whom say they're "obsessed" by the site's "flash-sales" of home goods, designer and vintage items with prices that it says are as much as 70 percent off retail. The company employs 475 people in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles and boasts a 2013 projected revenue of $300 million.

Alix Burns, CEO of TechNet, a Silicon Valley advocacy group, said there has been a strong trend to ensure that "at both the state and federal level, women continue to be hugely important in shaping policy discussions and political contests" because they contribute to a "diverse mix of voices."

Indeed, the growing recognition of tech women's clout is also evident in House campaigns like that of Democratic hopeful Ro Khanna, who's challenging seven-term congressman Mike Honda.

Khanna touts a lengthy list of endorsements from leading tech women, billionaires and star donors -- including include Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who both have also hosted fundraisers for President Barack Obama.

Democratic fundraiser Steve Spinner, campaign chair for Khanna, said the star status of such women in campaigns should come as no surprise. The innovation economy, he said, is all about results.

"We have problems we need to solve, and we need the smartest people in the room, regardless of sex, to tell us ways to get through it," he said.

Carla Marinucci is The San Francisco Chronicle's senior political writer. E-mail: cmarinucci@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @cmarinucci. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.

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