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Profile: Peter Thiel

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The Republican presidential primaries are being largely controlled, at least from a financial standpoint, by a very few extraordinarily wealthy individuals, according to research provided by former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich and the news organization ProPublica. In January 2012, the campaign of frontrunner Rick Santorum (R-PA) was almost entirely funded by billionaires William Dore and multi-millionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012), who between them supplied over three-quarters of the $2.1 million donated to Santorum’s “super PAC” “Red White and Blue Fund.” Dore is the president of a Louisiana energy corporation and Friess is a fund manager in Wyoming. Of the $11 million raised by the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich (R-GA), $10 million came from Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam. Adelson runs a casino ownership group in Las Vegas. Most of the rest of Gingrich’s funding came from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel provided $1.7 million of the $2.4 million raised in January by the super PAC for Ron Paul (R-TX). As for Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a multi-millionaire, his super PAC “Restore Our Future” raised $6.6 million in January. Almost all of it came from 40 donors, including hedge fund billionaires Bruce Kovner, Julian Robertson (the largest donor at $1.25 million), and David Tepper, hotel owners J.W. Marriott and Richard Marriott, and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman. The lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011) has contributed over $1.4 million to various Republican candidates. Reich writes, “Whoever emerges as the GOP standard-bearer will be deeply indebted to a handful of people, each of whom will expect a good return on their investment.” Reich goes on to cite American Crossroads’s “super PAC” Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican political consultant Karl Rove, and its lineup of corporate moguls contributing hundreds of millions of dollars. The lineup of Crossroads supporters includes Charles and David Koch (see 1940 and After, 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, Late 2004, October 2008, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 2010, August 17, 2011, April 2010 and After and October 4, 2011), and Harold Simmons, owner of Contran Corporation, who has contributed $10 million to the organization. Reich says there is no legal way to know exactly how much the Kochs and their fellows have contributed: “The public will never know who or what corporation gave what because, under IRS regulations, such nonprofit ‘social welfare organizations’ aren’t required to disclose the names of those who contributed to them.” The previous limit of $5,000 per year per individual was erased by the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, a decision Reich calls “grotesque.” Reich writes: “In a sense, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and Romney are the fronts. Dore et al. are the real investors.… Now, the limits are gone. And this comes precisely at a time when an almost unprecedented share of the nation’s income and wealth is accumulating at the top. Never before in the history of our Republic have so few spent so much to influence the votes of so many.” [The Atlantic, 2/2/2012; Salon, 2/21/2012; ProPublica, 2/21/2012] President Obama’s super PAC, “Priorities USA Action,” has received $2 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and another $1 million from the Service Employees International Union’s Committee on Political Education (SEIU COPE). However, Priorities USA has raised relatively paltry sums in comparison to the monies raised by the Republican super PACs, according to a Reuters report. Obama and his re-election campaign had originally distanced themselves from the super PAC operating in their name, in part because they disapprove of the Citizens United decision and the influence of super PACs in electoral politics. Since the Obama campaign officially endorsed the organization, donations have risen. Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod says that Obama “believes that this is an unhealthy development in our political process, but it is a reality of the rules as they stand. This was not a quick decision, but he also feels a responsibility to win this election. There’s a lot hanging on this beyond him.” By the end of January, Priorities USA had raised $4.2 million. In contrast, Romney’s “Restore Our Future” had raised $36.8 million by the end of last month. [Reuters, 2/2012; ProPublica, 2/21/2012] Partly in response to reports of billionaires’ influence on the 2012 elections, comedian Bill Maher will announce his donation of $1 million to the Obama super PAC. Maher will tell an audience that an Obama victory over any of the Republican contenders is “worth a million dollars” and will describe the donation as “the wisest investment I think I could make.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2012] Friess is often described in the press as a “billionaire,” but both Friess and Forbes magazine say that appellation is inaccurate. [Forbes, 2/8/2012]

Almost a quarter of the millions donated to super PACs so far during the campaign season comes from just five donors, a USA Today analysis shows. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. In August 2011, a USA Today analysis showed that a dozen wealthy individuals and corporations contributed over half of the money given to super PACs (see August 4, 2011). Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has called the influence of the supposedly independent organizations corrosively corrupting and extraordinarily dangerous, and correctly predicted that their influence would increase as the campaign season wears on (see January 3, 2012). Four of those donors are:
bullet Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons, who financed the 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign that vilified presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), has given $12 million to the Republican super PAC “American Crossroads” and $2.2 million to super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates;
bullet Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife Miriam has given $10 million to “Winning the Future,” the super PAC supporting Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012), and who says he is willing to donate up to $100 million more to keep Gingrich in the race (see February 21, 2012);
bullet Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who has given $2.6 million to “Endorse Liberty,” a super PAC backing Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and his presidential campaign;
bullet Houston real estate developer Bob Perry, who has given $3.6 million to super PACs, including $2.5 million to American Crossroads. Perry formerly backed Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) in the presidential primaries, but has now shifted his allegiance to frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA).
Republican organizations have vastly outraised their Democratic counterparts, though so far much of the money spent by Republican organizations has been to attack Republican presidential candidates during the primary campaigns. Indeed, some political observers say that Romney would have secured the nomination long ago if not for the billionaires supporting other Republican candidates. “Without the flow of super PAC money, the Republican race would be over,” says campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado. “Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda.” Political scientist Cal Jillson says of the billionaires contributing these huge sums: “They are extremely wealthy people who put their resources behind their vision of the appropriate relationship between the government and the private sector. That vision is low taxes, small government, and personal responsibility.” The super PAC working on behalf of President Obama, “Priorities USA,” collected $2 million in late 2011 from Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, but since then has raised relatively paltry amounts in comparison to its Republican counterparts. It raised a mere $59,000 in January 2012, most of that made up of a $50,000 contribution from John Rogers, CEO of Arial Investments and a close friend of Obama. [USA Today, 2/21/2012] The USA Today analysis is congruent with a recent analysis by Robert Reich, the former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton (see February 21, 2012).

Entity Tags: Cal Jillson, Sheldon Adelson, Bobby Jack Perry, USA Today, Willard Mitt Romney, Anthony J. Corrado Jr., American Crossroads, Ruth Marcus, Barack Obama, Tim Pawlenty, Peter Thiel, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Harold Simmons, Endorse Liberty, Priorities USA Action, Ron Paul, John Kerry, John Rogers, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Newt Gingrich, Miriam Adelson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The liberal news Web site Think Progress cites the two-year anniversary of the SpeechNow.org v. Federal Elections Commission ruling (see March 26, 2010), which allowed the creation of “super PACs,” or “independent expenditure” organizations. Think Progress writes, “Combined with the unlimited corporate expenditures enabled by the Supreme Court’s earlier Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), this case brought the campaign finance system to where it is now: more than $80 million spent already this cycle by super PACs and more than two-thirds of their funding coming from just 46 rich donors.” $67 million of the $80 million spent so far comes from 46 extraordinarily wealthy citizens. Almost all of them are owners and/or senior executives of oil and energy companies, hoteliers, and financial executives. Almost all are white and male. And almost all of them contribute to conservative and Republican-supporting groups (see February 21, 2012). John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity says, “We’re looking at a singularly weird phenomenon.” The super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a former financial services CEO, is primarily funded by Wall Street executives, mostly private equity and hedge fund executives. One major Romney contributor, hedge fund manager John Paulson, has contributed $1 million. Paulson made enormous profits in 2008 by investing funds in ventures based on the mortgage industry collapse. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics says, “The financial sector is one where there’s a lot of money, and it’s a sector with which Romney is very familiar, so it’s not surprising that it would be a big source of contributions.” Other Republican candidates such as Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Ron Paul (R-TX) also garner big contributions from billionaires. Gingrich is primarily funded by casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who makes much of his money in Las Vegas and China’s Macau. Paul has the backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Santorum is primarily supported by billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012)—arguably all three candidates’ campaigns are being supported by single donors who decide whether their campaigns will continue by virtue of granting or withholding donations. Attorney Paul S. Ryan of Campaign Legal Center says: “We’ve had a small group of donors maintain the viability of certain candidates. It’s an Alice in Wonderland situation. It defies logic.… American elections are funded by a very narrow range of special interests, and that has the effect of making our democracy look a lot more like a plutocracy.” Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it is sometimes difficult to discern the motivations behind billionaires’ funding of certain candidates, but billionaire Harold Simmons, who made his fortune in leveraged buyouts and corporate takeovers, says he is funding conservative super PACs because President Obama is a “socialist.” The Wall Street Journal has noted that Simmons and others like him would profit greatly if their industries were less regulated by government agencies. If Republicans do well in the November elections, Simmons told the Journal that “we can block that crap [regulations].” Conservative super PACs are far outstripping the super PAC backing the Obama re-election campaign as well as other Democrats running for office. Mann says, “The pool of billionaires who can throw tens of millions into the game—and are inclined to do so—is concentrated on the right.” Obama has so far been reluctant to get involved in his super PAC’s fundraising activities, but recent statements by his campaign indicate that White House aides will try to help Priorities USA Action, the Obama super PAC, raise more money in the near future. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina says the Obama campaign is in danger of being overwhelmed by the fundraising from conservative billionaires. CNN states that the most notable effect of super PAC funding might not be on the presidential race, but on “downticket” races for Congress. Much smaller outlays of super PAC money can have extraordinary impacts on such races. Dunbar says, “An individual donor and a super PAC could go off to some district in Kentucky and just completely destroy some candidate because he doesn’t favor what’s good for your business.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2012; CNN, 3/26/2012; Huffington Post, 6/16/2012]

Entity Tags: Jim Messina, Harold Simmons, Viveca Novak, Wall Street Journal, Willard Mitt Romney, CNN, Barack Obama, Thomas Mann, Think Progress (.org), US Supreme Court, Foster Friess, Newt Gingrich, John Paulson, John Dunbar, Sheldon Adelson, Ron Paul, Paul S. Ryan, Rick Santorum, Priorities USA Action, Peter Thiel

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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