Some Prominent Silicon Valley Investors Shift to the Right

In 2021, David Sacks, a prominent venture capital investor and podcast host, said former President Donald J. Trump’s behavior around the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol had disqualified him from being a future political candidate.

At a tech conference last week, Mr. Sacks said his view had changed.

“I have bigger disagreements with Biden than with Trump,” the investor said. Mr. Sacks said he and his podcast co-hosts were working on hosting a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump, which could include an interview for their “All In” show. They also extended an invitation to President Biden, he said, but the Trump camp was more open to it.

Such public support for Mr. Trump used to be taboo in Silicon Valley, which has long been seen as a liberal bastion. But frustration with Mr. Biden, Democrats and the state of the world has increasingly driven some of tech’s most prominent venture capitalists to the right.

Some investors, like Chamath Palihapitiya of Social Capital, backed Democrats in the past. (He is set to co-host the fund-raiser for Mr. Trump alongside Mr. Sacks.) Others, like Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz and Shaun Maguire of Sequoia Capital, have criticized Mr. Biden without expressing support for Mr. Trump. Still others, like Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures, are focusing their efforts on electing Republicans to Congress.

The activity may amount to more noise than formal support or personal donations for Mr. Trump’s campaign. And it is by no means everyone. Much of Silicon Valley, including prominent donors like the investors Reid Hoffman and Vinod Khosla, remains loyal to Democrats. Peter Thiel, the investor who backed Mr. Trump in the past, has said he is disillusioned with politics and plans to stay out of the 2024 race.

But the tech investors who are leaning right are influential, with enormous followings on social media and lots of money — and they are becoming more politically engaged. That reflects how the start-up industry has grown — soaring eightfold between 2012 and 2022 to $344 billion, according to PitchBook, which tracks start-ups — with more of the industry’s issues turning political in nature.

“When I started, everybody cared about tax issues and immigration issues,” said Bobby Franklin, who has led the National Venture Capital Association, a trade group, since 2013. “Now it is so much more complex.”

Delian Asparouhov, an investor at Founders Fund, the investment firm founded by Mr. Thiel, recently marveled at how much the political winds had shifted. This month, Mr. Trump made a virtual appearance at a venture capital conference in Washington. There, he thanked attendees for “keeping your chin up” and said he looked forward to meeting them.

“Four years ago you had to issue an apology if you voted for him,” Mr. Asparouhov wrote on X.

Mr. Sacks, Mr. Palihapitiya and Founders Fund did not respond to a request for comment. Sequoia Capital declined to comment.

The comments and activity by the group of tech investors are particularly noticeable given Silicon Valley’s blue background. The circle of Republican donors in the nation’s tech capital has long been limited to a few tech executives such as Scott McNealy, a founder of Sun Microsystems; Meg Whitman, a former chief executive of eBay; Carly Fiorina, a former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard; Larry Ellison, the executive chairman of Oracle; and Doug Leone, a former managing partner of Sequoia Capital.

But mostly, the tech industry cultivated close ties with Democrats. Al Gore, the former Democratic vice president, joined the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in 2007. Over the next decade, tech companies including Airbnb, Google, Uber and Apple eagerly hired former members of the Obama administration.

Mr. Thiel’s loud and enthusiastic support for Mr. Trump in 2016, which included a $1.25 million donation and a speech at the Republican National Convention, came as a shock. Even more surprising to some in the industry was the way that, after Mr. Trump won the election that year, the world seemed to blame tech companies for his victory. The resulting “techlash” against Facebook and others caused some industry leaders to reassess their political views, a trend that continued through the social and political turmoil of the pandemic.

During that time, Democrats moved further to the left and demonized successful people who made a lot of money, further alienating some tech leaders, said Bradley Tusk, a venture capital investor and political strategist who is a Democrat.

“If you keep telling someone over and over that they’re evil, they’re eventually not going to like that,” he said. “I see that in venture capital.”

That feeling has hardened under President Biden. Some investors said they were frustrated that his pick for chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, has aggressively moved to block acquisitions, one of the main ways venture capitalists make money. They said they were also unhappy that Mr. Biden’s pick for head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, had been hostile to cryptocurrency companies.

The start-up industry has also been in a downturn since 2022, with higher interest rates sending capital fleeing from risky bets and a dismal market for initial public offerings crimping opportunities for investors to cash in on their valuable investments.

Some also said they disliked Mr. Biden’s proposal in March to raise taxes, including a 25 percent “billionaire tax” on certain holdings that could include start-up stock, as well as a higher tax rate on profits from successful investments.

Mr. Sacks said at the tech conference last week that he thought such taxes could kill the start-up industry’s system of offering stock options to founders and employees. “It’s a good reason for Silicon Valley to think really hard about who it wants to vote for,” he said.

Some tech investors are also fuming over how Mr. Biden has handled foreign affairs and other issues.

“It’s impossible to support Biden,” said Mr. Rabois of Khosla Ventures, who added that he was also not a fan of Mr. Trump. “I am focused on electing a G.O.P. Congress and Senate.”

Mr. Maguire of Sequoia Capital wrote on X in May that “Biden has been getting away with double standards his entire career.” He added, “We’ll see what happens this time.”

Mr. Andreessen, a founder of Andreessen Horowitz, a prominent Silicon Valley venture firm, said in a recent podcast that “there are real issues with the Biden administration.” Under Mr. Trump, he said, the S.E.C. and F.T.C. would be headed by “very different kinds of people.” But a Trump presidency would not necessarily be a “clean win” either, he added.

Last month, Mr. Sacks, Mr. Thiel, Elon Musk and other prominent investors attended an “anti-Biden” dinner in Hollywood, where attendees discussed fund-raising and ways to oppose Democrats, a person familiar with the situation said. The dinner was earlier reported by Puck.

The shifting attitudes mirror the country’s broader frustrations with both parties, said Mr. Franklin of the National Venture Capital Association. “Tech, venture capital and Silicon Valley are looking at the current state of affairs and saying, ‘I’m not happy with either of those options,’” he said. “‘I can no longer count on Democrats to support tech issues, and I can no longer count on Republicans to support business issues.’”

Ben Horowitz, a founder of Andreessen Horowitz, wrote in a blog post last year that the firm would back any politician who supported “an optimistic technology-enabled future” and oppose any who did not. Mr. Horowitz and Mr. Andreessen have each donated more than $11 million to political causes in the last year. Most of that went to Fairshake, a political action group focused on supporting crypto-friendly lawmakers.

In November, a group of prominent investors and start-up founders signed an open letter to Mr. Biden criticizing an executive order aimed at creating safeguards around the development of artificial intelligence. They accused him of stifling innovation.

Venture investors are also networking with lawmakers in Washington at events like the Hill & Valley conference in March, organized by Jacob Helberg, an adviser to Palantir, a tech company co-founded by Mr. Thiel. At that event, tech executives and investors lobbied lawmakers against A.I. regulations and asked for more government spending to support the technology’s development in the United States.

This month, Mr. Helberg, who is married to Mr. Rabois, donated $1 million to the Trump campaign. The donation was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

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