Billionaire investor Peter Thiel completed a key phase in his purchase of American democracy with the acceptance by the Ohio GOP of his $15 million bid for the Republican Senate nomination there.
J.D. Vance, a one-time critic of former President Donald Trump leaned on a super PAC and his billionaire patron to put him in a position for the former president’s endorsement before winning the Ohio primary.
Thiel, a German-born billionaire who co-founded PayPal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund, and was the first outside investor in Facebook, has a net worth of more than $9 billion.
Thiel had already donated a record-breaking amount of money to support Vance in the Ohio Republican Senate primary — but last week, the Silicon Valley tycoon decided he wanted to give even more to a pro-Vance super PAC.
With that previously unreported donation, Thiel had given $15 million in total to bolster Vance — the largest amount ever given to boost a single Senate candidate.
Thiel is a contrarian who became famous for making risky investments that paid off — and with Vance’s win in Tuesday’s primary, the PayPal co-founder and early Facebook financier struck it big again.
Vance was hardly a sure thing. His campaign was outspent by his better-funded rivals, and he had a long history of making anti-Trump statements that could have gone over poorly with GOP primary voters.
In February, his campaign suffered a damaging leak of confidential polling data that painted a grim picture of his prospects, chilled his fundraising and set off a forensic hunt for a potential mole.
A super PAC that supported Vance’s bid for US Senate but is legally barred from coordinating with the candidate created a secret but public website to relay information to the campaign in a way that skirted federal law, according to a report from Politico.
As long as independent spending is constitutionally protected — as the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo decision established that it is — it is difficult to see how regulation could effectively limit the kind of implicit coordination that the Vance example illustrates.
During the 2016 campaign, Vance had identified himself as “Never Trump,” said he “loathed” the former president and once wondered on Twitter: “What percentage of the American population has @RealDonaldTrump sexually assaulted?”
During a spring 2021 meeting at the Mar-a-Lago resort, which was chaperoned by Thiel and attended by Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., Vance argued that he was aligned with former president on populist issues he cares about.
Trump ened up endorsing Vance, and Thiel’s money drove a campaign that surpassed all other GOP contenders, leaving Ohio voters at the whim of a lawmaker beholden to a couple of billionaires who have no concern about the Buckeye State.