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Thursday, November 11, 2023

Thiel talks crypto, China at pricey dinners for proteges’ Senate campaigns

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Tech billionaire Peter Thiel is going all-in to support two of his proteges’ campaigns for the US Senate — and his plan involves swanky California dinners with high-dollar donors.

JD Vance and Blake Masters — two Thiel employees who are running for Senate on conservative populist platforms in Ohio and Arizona, respectively — have both offered dinners with Thiel in exchange for hefty campaign donations.

“Want to have dinner with me and Peter Thiel?” tweeted Vance, who previously worked for a Thiel-owned venture capital firm and wrote the bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” on Nov. 4. “Donate $10,800 by tomorrow and I’ll send you the details.”

Masters, who works as the chief operating officer at Thiel’s investment firm and is running on a promise to “completely end illegal immigration,” made a similar offer back in August, slinging invitations to dinners with Thiel for $5,800 a pop.

Campaign finance disclosures show two dozen men took Masters up on the offer — and they’ve since been treated to hours-long meals with Thiel and Masters at restaurants Los Angeles and Palo Alto, On The Money has learned. 

The topics of conversation at the dinners have included some of Thiel’s favorite topics, like cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence and China, according to Masters.

“The point is the two to three hours of conversation on topics of the day: the rise of China, the future of AI, crypto, the rot in our politics, what’s gone wrong with philanthropy, what’s next in venture capital, how to take back the US Senate,” Masters told The Post. “No agenda, the discussion just flows.”

Donors who ponied up $5,800 could have dinner with Blake Masters (pictured) and Peter Thiel.

People who ponied up the $5,800 for the events include several venture capitalists and hedge fund managers — as well as a self-employed copywriter and the former Trump-appointed ambassador to Austria, Trevor Traina, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Another person who qualified to attend the dinners was Jamison Ernest, an eccentric New York City investor and artist with stakes in startups like toothbrush company Quip and ice cream maker Van Leeuwen, who once hid $77,000 worth of diamonds in a Meatpacking District art installation attended by Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper and Russell Simmons.

“So many of the attendees share my sense that we’re losing the country and are getting involved in politics for the first time,” Masters said.

JD Vance (pictured) offered up invitations to dinners with Peter Thiel for $10,800 each.
Getty Images

None of the 24 people who forked over the cash lives in Arizona, according to a Post analysis of public records.

In order to qualify for Masters’ dinners, attendees had to donate $5,800 on August 5 or 6. While 24 donors appeared to qualify for the dinners based on campaign finance disclosures, none commented on the record when The Post attempted to contact them.

One donor said the Masters campaign “asked that I not” speak to The Post about the dinner, but Masters denied that he told attendees not to talk to reporters.

Peter Thiel (left) paid Blake Masters (right) a $775,000 salary in 2020, campaign finance disclosures show.
Patrick McMullan

Masters is a longtime protege and employee of Thiel, having co-written the best-selling 2014 book “Zero to One” with the legendary investor. In 2020, Masters took in $775,000 from his chief operating officer gig at Thiel Capital and more than $340,000 from book royalties, according to his campaign finance disclosures.

In addition to helping Masters and Vance fundraise, Thiel has already donated $10 million each to Super PACs supporting the candidates.

Thiel is known for co-founding two companies: payments giant PayPal and the data analytics firm Palantir. He also made a lucrative early investment in Facebook and sits on the social media firm’s board. He has a net worth of $4.1 billion, according to Forbes.

Vance and Thiel spokesman Jeremiah Hall did not respond to requests for comment.

JD Vance
JD Vance previously worked for a Peter Thiel-owned venture capital firm.
Getty Images for TechCrunch

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