Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist and tech entrepreneur, put another $3.5 million this month into a super PAC supporting Blake Masters in the highly competitive Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Arizona, according to a person familiar with the contribution.
Thiel increased his outlay for Masters after the May 3 primary victory in Ohio of J.D. Vance, another friend and former employee, reflecting Thiel’s decision to go all-in on the two populist firebrands and first-time candidates.
Thiel similarly funded a pro-Vance super PAC to the tune of $10 million. He invested another $3.5 million after the “Hillbilly Elegy” author secured former president Donald Trump’s endorsement last month and, in the final days of the Senate primary, put in an additional $1.5 million. Thiel and Trump spoke by phone in the days after Vance’s win, with the former president enthusing about the outcome of the race, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation who, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private details.
Thiel has accompanied both candidates to meet with Trump, whose endorsement Masters is still aggressively seeking — a potential game changer in a race where there has been little independent polling, and no clear front-runner. People close to Masters say the money helps make him viable, and provides a symbolic boost, but is nowhere near as consequential as what Trump decides to do.
In a question-and-answer session Sunday evening on Spaces, a live chat feature on Twitter, Masters shrugged off reports that Trump might hold back endorsements in future contests following a spotty record in spring primaries, and he expressed confidence that he would gain the former president’s favor before the August primary. The winner will face Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) in what could be among the closest Senate contests nationwide at a time when the chamber is split 50-50.
Thiel’s expenditures on Masters and Vance, both millennials seeking to push their party in a more nationalist direction, are among the largest sums ever contributed to individual Senate candidates. If elected, they would help fulfill the libertarian’s vision of empowering Republicans who want to curtail the U.S. role globally, roll back regulation and rupture norms of speech and “political correctness.”
Thiel, said Masters last year, “sees some promise in me, but he knows I’ll be an independent-minded senator.”
Masters, 35, has promoted tougher immigration rules and more advanced technology to secure the southern U.S. border. He has said that families should be able to rely on a single income, opining that the alternative “makes us more controllable and undermines the nuclear family.” He has embraced the former president’s revisionism about the last election, saying in a campaign video, “I think Trump won in 2020.”
Saving Arizona has spent about $3.5 million so far on advertising boosting Masters, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. It has also funded advertising opposing Mark Brnovich, the attorney general and rival Senate primary candidate, whom Trump has criticized for failing to act on unproved claims of voter fraud. The other leading contender, businessman Jim Lamon, has put at least $13 million of his money into his campaign.
Thiel is a co-founder of the payment processor PayPal and the data-mining company Palantir, and he was the first outside investor in Facebook. He has been a Republican donor for more than two decades. He has donated broadly to Republican candidates and committees, including to long-shot libertarian candidates, such as former congressman Ron Paul (Tex.), and immigration hard-liners such as Kris Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state.
Thiel’s political investments have grown more shrewd over time, say people who have worked with him. “Peter is not a ‘fight the good fight’ kind of guy,” said a Republican operative who helped broker a 2012 meeting between the venture capitalist and Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). “Peter wants to win. He places a high value on political viability. He was starting to question Rand’s electability and backed away.”
Thiel bucked left-leaning Silicon Valley by betting big on Trump in 2016. During the presidential transition, he and his associates, including Masters, helped staff key government roles. Last summer and fall, the tech entrepreneur sent several thousand dollars apiece to a wide range of pro-Trump congressional candidates, igniting hopes among some Republicans that he was positioning himself to become a megadonor on the scale of libertarian brothers David and Charles Koch, or former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has given millions in recent years to Democratic candidates and causes.
But Thiel, who steps down this week from the board of Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has told associates he plans to focus this election cycle on Masters and Vance, with whom he has personal ties, and mostly stay out of other races, according to people who have spoken to him.
“I have friends who would like to see him writing more checks,” said a business associate who shares Thiel’s politics. “But I don’t see him becoming much more expansive in his activities, not like a Bloomberg or a Koch.”