Silicon Valley billionaires square off over support for Trump and the MAGA movement

Silicon Valley billionaires square off over support for Trump and the MAGA movement

Supporters of US President Donald Trump participate in the Million MAGA March to protest the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, in front of the US Capitol on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Olivier Douliery | AFP | Getty Images

Two Silicon Valley billionaires are holding dueling political fundraisers this week that showcase their chosen candidates in this fall’s midterm elections and underscore a growing rift within the business community.

In one corner is LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who has been rallying corporate executives to oust politicians who support false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him.

On Thursday, Hoffman hosted a fundraiser in San Francisco with Twilio Chief Executive Jeff Lawson and venture capitalist Ron Conway, an early investor in Google and Paypal.

Tickets for that event, which featured an off-the-record conversation with former President Barack Obama, ranged from $36,500 to $250,000, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by CNBC. Donations from the event will go toward the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, which funnels money to state parties.  

Hoffman’s political adviser Dmitri Mehlhorn said that Hoffman is building a coalition within the business community to take on so-called MAGA Republicans.

The effort, dubbed Investing in US, consists of executives who are worried the MAGA movement could undermine future elections – and ultimately the rule of law that has allowed capitalism to thrive. MAGA, or Making America Great Again, has been Trump’s rallying cry since he launched his run for the White House in 2015.

“Their central mission is now anti-business,” said Mehlhorn, referring to MAGA Republicans and criticism they have directed at companies such Coke, Disney and Delta because of their social stances.

So are they going to come for us? Yes, of course. And the question is, ‘Do we fight?” said Melhorn, who shepherds the coalition for Hoffman.

But coalition faces some formidable – and familiar – opponents.

PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel has also invested heavily in midterm election races, backing conservative Republicans endorsed by Trump.

CNBC reported that Thiel plans to hold a fundraiser Friday at his Los Angeles home for his former protege Blake Masters a Republican running to represent Arizona in the Senate. Tickets for that event are going for up to $11,600.

Thiel in July sent $1.5 million to the Saving Arizona super PAC. 

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Earlier this month, while speaking at the National Conservatism conference in Miami, Thiel accused Google, Apple and Facebook of causing political dysfunction in the United States.

“All these big companies are kind of screwed up,” he told the audience. “But it’s the super-structure that’s really, really deranged.” 

That message has struck a chord among conservatives.

At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., dismissed the so-called ESG, or environmental, social and governance investment movement, as an attempt to “weaponize corporations to  reshape society in a way that voters would never endorse at the ballot box.”

Last week, the Conservative Political Action Coalition sent a letter to House Republicans calling on them to reject meetings with businesses that have spoken out on issues such as election laws, abortion, and transgender rights.

“Woke CEOs turned their backs on conservative leaders after the last election,” the letter said. “Conservatives will take control led by activists and entrepreneurs who are exhausted and offended by the radical left policies pushed by these publicly traded companies.”

But not all Republicans are on board with that approach.

Asked by CNBC whether he supports the pledge, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he’s not closing any doors.

“I meet with everybody. How can you have any dialogue on how to make a change?” McCarthy said.

“It doesn’t mean whether I agree with somebody or not, but I’ll meet with anybody in the process.”

Even Thiel has suggested that Republicans may need to tone down their rhetoric in the long run.

During his Miami speech, Thiel said that the GOP does not seem to have the electoral momentum of the “Republican Revolution” led by Newt Gingrinch in 1994 or of the Tea Party movement in 2010.

And Thiel warned against simply railing against what he called “woke insanities.”

“My intuition is that the sort of nihilistic negation is probably not enough,” he said. “It might be enough to win in the midterms in ’22. It might be enough to win in ’24. But we want to have something that is somewhat more of a program-positive vision – something like that to be credible.” 

Meanwhile, Investing in US getting involved in marquee matchups across the country. For example, Hoffman and Karla Jurvetson, a Silicon Valley philanthropist who was formerly married to an early investor in SpaceX and Tesla, hosted a virtual conversation last month with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is now the Democratic candidate for governor.

Shapiro is running against Doug Mastriano, a Republican who has been subpoenaed by the select House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot over his alleged involvement in compiling an alternate slate of electors to hand the presidential election to Trump. In an email to his fellow executives and donors, Hoffman vowed to match the first $500,000 in contributions to Shapiro raised at his event.

“Whether or not the United States has a democratic system based on the peaceful transfer of power in 2024 depends on whether Josh Shapiro can defeat Doug Mastriano for governor of Pennsylvania this fall,” the email read.

Mehlhorn told CNBC that the results of the midterms will reveal the strength of Trump’s allies within the Republican party and determine whether their crusade against corporate America can continue.

“We believe the business community has an insufficient threat assessment of the nature of the threat,” he said.