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“Crypto bros”, UFOs and NFT: Inside Peter Thiel’s Senate fundraising tour

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“Crypto bros”, UFOs and NFT: Inside Peter Thiel’s Senate fundraising tour

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Libertarian-minded Thiel made two $10 million donations to a pair of super PACs supporting the two candidates, but he wasn’t content to just write big checks and sit on the sidelines. . Thiel, PayPal’s reclusive co-founder and early Facebook investor, is capitalizing on his mystique and growing notoriety to lure donors to the pair of first-time contestants, and he’s played a major behind-the-scenes role in helping to orchestrate their fundraising.

Thiel brought in a wave of apolitical, idiosyncratic contributors — a group that includes everyone from Silicon Valley types to “crypto-bros,” as one person described them — who don’t typically donate to Republican campaigns. The influx of money has helped propel Masters and Vance as they compete in crowded primaries.

Thiel has become such a draw that candidates from other races have begun reaching out to those in the investor’s orbit in the hope that Thiel might help them as well.

“He’s a well-known business leader, a well-known opinion leader among political conservatives, and he’s also, I think, a very influential person in the crypto community,” Vance said. “And so I think these three [groups of] people are just interested in what he has to say, and I think that makes his support very helpful.

Last month’s “Zero to One” sale was part of a larger effort led by Thiel to fill the war chests of his two favorite candidates. Thiel held three behind-closed-doors fundraisers for the Masters — including one in late December at his Miami home — each of which raised around $100,000. Separately, Thiel hosted a series of fundraising dinners in Ohio, Florida, Los Angeles and Northern California, where donors offered thousands of dollars via Twitter sales hosted by Masters and Vance for have a chance to sit across from the investor.

Thiel headlined six of those dinners for Masters, as well as two for Vance, a venture capitalist and author of “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance has brought in $200,000 from the dinners, and he’ll get another one this month that’s expected to bring in six figures, according to a person familiar with his campaign.

Those familiar with dinner parties describe them as intimate affairs. Masters fundraiser organizers have reserved private rooms at high-end restaurants and limited attendance to six donors each, giving them an air of exclusivity.

The conversations are different from those that typically take place at political fundraisers. As the 2016 and 2020 elections and policy towards China were discussed, a range of other topics arose, including cryptocurrency, robotics and UFOs. There have even been discussions of “deepfakes” – the manipulation of digital media – and Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted financier and sex offender who, in 2019, was found dead in his prison cell.

The connection to Thiel has helped Masters and Vance raise significant sums from new donors and those in California’s tech community, who are typically hesitant to support Republican candidates. According to his campaign financial records, Masters attracted $371,000 in contributions from California contributors in the third quarter of 2021, more than any other state.

Donors “want to know [Thiel], they want to understand what drives him, they want to understand who he is and hang out with him,” said Lanhee Chen, a candidate for state comptroller in California who met Thiel and, as the tech investor , taught at Stanford.

The Masters NFT bet provided the clearest illustration yet of Thiel’s fundraising power. Masters had for a few weeks mulled over the idea of ​​selling a unique digital representation of “Zero to One,” based on notes Masters took during a Stanford startup class, Thiel taught in 2012. After launching the project on December 27, just before the year-end fundraising deadline, Masters sparked interest in the NFT by providing a series of real-time updates on Twitter detailing the number of copies sold. .

The Arizona candidate has since received contact from supporters asking if he could mint more copies of the NFT ‘Zero to One’, although he chose not to, wanting to avoid diluting the value. of the 99 products.

“Peter and I have written ‘Zero to One’, a book about the importance of doing new things, not only in business but also in society and politics. It seems only fitting that, years later, my U.S. Senate campaign was the first to raise funds in this new way,” Masters said in a statement.

While the billionaire’s strong involvement has been a boon for both candidates, it has also become a topic of debate in the Ohio race. After Vance hosted a dinner with him and Thiel for donors who donated $10,800, main opponent Josh Mandel wrote on Twitter that “for $10.80, anyone can join me in eating fries off the car hood of a Denny’s gas station at midnight.”

Mandel has also ripped vance for his support of “Silicon Valley” and called Vance a hypocrite for criticizing big tech companies when he has “a guy who’s on the board of Facebook as its biggest political backer,” a implicit reference to Thiel.

Mandel, however, was not always critical of Thiel. The billionaire donated to Mandel’s Senate campaign in 2012 and held a fundraiser for him in December 2011, according to a person familiar with the event. Before Vance announced his candidacy, Mandel contacted Thiel via text to congratulate him and request a meeting, two people briefed on the exchange confirmed. The text messages were first reported by Axios.

“Over the years Peter has staged events for me and against me and through it all I consider him a friend and a force for good,” Mandel said in a statement. “He understands the power of human freedom better than anyone I know and our country is lucky to have him as our leader.”

Thiel, 54, born in Germany, is keeping up to date with races in Arizona and Ohio, his relatives say. As the primary season approaches, he is expected to continue his involvement in the contests, and both campaigns are considering what other ways he could be useful. Masters, who served as Thiel’s de facto chief of staff, hinted that more were on the way when he tweeted last month that he “can’t wait to show you what we have planned next.”

Thiel’s fundraising power extends beyond Arizona and Ohio. Later this month, the billionaire joins Donald Trump Jr. in co-hosting a donor event for Wyoming Values ​​PAC, a super PAC supporting Wyoming Republican Harriet Hageman, which is issuing a primary challenge against Rep. Liz Cheney. According to a person close to the event, the organizers have decided to increase the number of places to meet demand.

Those who have followed Thiel’s career say his engagement follows the aggressive and tough approach he took throughout his career – perhaps most memorable when he funded a lawsuit targeting the gossip website Gawker after he comes out as gay. The suit ultimately bankrupted the outlet and forced it to close.

“Here’s a guy coming in who doesn’t just play,” Chen said. “He plays seriously and plays to win.”

“Crypto bros”, UFOs and NFT: Inside Peter Thiel’s Senate fundraising tour

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