Bay Area billionaires, crypto disciples love 2 Carolina conservatives

On April 25, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., confirmed to Politico that he’ll seek the chairmanship position of the powerful House Financial Services Committee should Republicans take back Congress in November. Almost immediately after making his party leadership desires known, large donations to his re-election campaign flooded in, and from a peculiar place: the Bay Area.

Most noteworthy among the donors are a trio of very wealthy men. Election finance records show Ron Conway, an angel investor and political ally of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, gave McHenry $5,800, the maximum amount allowed for an individual contributor split between the primary and general elections. (Conway, nicknamed the “Godfather of Silicon Valley,” also gave $350,000 to a super PAC that supports “pro-crypto” politicians this cycle.)

Chris Larsen, the billionaire co-founder of Ripple — which touts itself as offering “crypto solutions for business” — maxed out a donation to McHenry, despite Larsen’s usual preference for the Democratic Party establishment (this most recent quarter, he also gave $250,000 to a PAC affiliated with House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and $5,800 to centrist Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.). And Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz who was labeled by Fortune as “the world’s top crypto investor,” immediately gave $5,800 to McHenry, too.

They were far from alone among their cadre during the second quarter of 2022, which stretched from April 1 through June 30. SFGATE reviewed thousands of FEC filings to get a better sense of how the Bay Area’s wealthiest are exerting their influence — i.e. who they’re dumping bags of money on — in the lead-up to November’s midterm elections. Along the way, we identified a number of newsworthy patterns, which we’ll be reporting on throughout the week.

First up, we’re focusing on the Bay Area tech sector’s burgeoning love affair with a pair of Carolina conservatives: the aforementioned McHenry, and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

Ron Conway attends the 7th Annual Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at NASA Ames Research Center on Nov. 4, 2018, in Mountain View, Calif.

Ron Conway attends the 7th Annual Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at NASA Ames Research Center on Nov. 4, 2018, in Mountain View, Calif.

Taylor Hill/Getty Images

From all indications, some of the Bay Area’s wealthiest (some billionaires, some millionaires) are putting out feelers for a Republican presidential candidate who might be deemed slightly more palatable than Donald Trump. Of late, Scott seems to be their choice.

Scott, 56, has been in the U.S. Senate since 2013. He’s one of three Black U.S. senators, and was the first Black senator to be elected to a seat in the South since 1881. He occasionally pushed back against offensive comments made by former President Trump, and is more willing to discuss the possibility of criminal justice reform than many of his colleagues, which leads some to believe he’s a moderate, center-right politician. 

In reality, his voting record is reliably far-right. He is strenuously anti-abortion rights; he wants to repeal what’s left of the Affordable Care Act; he’s against equality for the LGBTQ community; he even voted against the watered-down 2021 infrastructure bill that actually managed to get 69 “yes” votes in the usually impenetrable Senate. Multiple analyses list Scott as one of the most ideologically rigid members of his voting body.

Unlike McHenry, who could end up in a position with broad discretion to regulate (or deregulate) Bay Area-based businesses, Scott doesn’t have many obvious Silicon Valley or tech ties. The lone exception is his interest in “opportunity zones,” a tax break incentive program ostensibly designed to encourage individuals to invest in underserved American communities. The program was the brainchild of Sean Parker, the billionaire co-founder of Napster and Facebook’s first president. Scott is technically up for re-election in November, though the outcome of that race isn’t in doubt. He’s almost guaranteed to win, and win easily. He’s not a candidate in desperate need of funding to beat his opponent.

And yet, according to FEC filings, since April, Scott’s campaign, as well as his political action committee, has received significant donations from the following people, all of whom live in the Bay Area. (Unless otherwise noted, all donations below were either $2,900 or a total of $5,800, if they were spread out between the primary and general elections. Billionaires are listed as such.) 

-Fred Ehrsam, a 34-year-old billionaire who co-founded crypto companies Coinbase and Paradigm
-William Fisher, billionaire heir to the Gap fortune and brother of Oakland A’s owner John Fisher. (John Fisher himself gave to Scott on March 31, the FEC’s first quarter deadline for donations.)
-Ingrid Hills, widow to Reuben Hills, formerly the president of Hills Bros. Coffee ($3,000)
-William Oberndorf, a billionaire businessman and major backer of the Chesa Boudin recall ($5,000 total)
-John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems and current CEO of JC2 Ventures, a venture capital firm 
-Bill Duhamel, CEO of Route One Investment Company, who has a net worth estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars
-Alana Palmedo, chief operating officer of Paradigm, a crypto investment firm
-Matt Huang, co-founder of Paradigm
-Len Baker, a now-retired, previously longtime partner of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sutter Hill Ventures. Len’s wife, Mary Anne, also donated to Scott.
-Thomas Stephenson, a venture capitalist, former ambassador to Portugal, and California Republican megadonor ($5,000)
-Daniel O’Day, CEO of Gilead Sciences, a Foster City-based pharmaceuticals company
-Lance Milken, the son of billionaire businessman and pardoned felon Michael Milken

Other rumored Republican presidential candidates for 2024 got far less attention than Scott from Bay Area donors last quarter. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., didn’t nab anywhere near the same number of notable donations from the Bay Area, both in terms of dollars and recognizable names.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t have a federal PAC yet, just a statewide one, which is collecting a formidable amount of money, including from real estate developers in Southern California. But in the bay, interest in DeSantis seems much cooler — just two significant donations between April and June, neither from public figures. And of course, there’s Trump, whose various PACs garnered just one decent-sized donation in the Bay Area last quarter — $6,250 from a retired non-public figure in Marin County.

For his part, Scott — like all of the above politicians, save Trump — has remained coy about his 2024 intentions. If he does eventually decide to enter the fray, it looks as though he could count on the coffers of some of the Bay Area’s wealthiest people.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., walks down the House steps of the Capitol on Thursday, April 28, 2022. 

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., walks down the House steps of the Capitol on Thursday, April 28, 2022. 

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

Meanwhile, if McHenry becomes chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, he can set about undoing (or at least halting) the Democratic Party’s stated interest of better regulating cryptocurrency services and online brokerage firms. Rich stakeholders in the Bay Area appear to have taken notice. As SFGATE reported last week, the PAC for the stock trading app Robinhood maxed out a $2,900 donation to McHenry in April. Robinhood’s CEO, Vlad Tenev, also gave $5,800 to McHenry. It should be noted that McHenry has been anti-equality for the LGBTQ community since he took office in 2005, and just last week, he voted “nay” on federal protections for gay marriage, interracial marriage and contraception. (Tenev declined comment on his donation.)

Two months after Robinhood’s PAC and Tenev donated to McHenry, the congressman offered a preview of the services he could provide as a committee chairman. He shot down the House Financial Services Committee’s critical findings from a year-long investigation into Robinhood and other online brokerage firms, writing, “Committee Democrats saw a chance to use partisan conspiracy theories to push an agenda that makes the stock market less accessible. Now, nearly 17 months later, there is still no evidence of collusion between market makers and broker-dealers, and the Democrats continue to ignore the fact that the underlying infrastructure of the market performed well during the meme stock event.”

In addition to Conway, Larsen, Dixon and Tenev, here are other notable recent donations to McHenry from Bay Area residents. (Unless otherwise noted, all donations below were either $2,900 or a total of $5,800, if they were spread out between the primary and general elections.)

-Alexandra Parker, a self-identified artist and philanthropist and the wife of billionaire Sean Parker
-George Roberts, net worth $8 billion, who co-founded the private equity firm KKR
-Michael Belshe, CEO of BitGo, a crypto company
-Hunter Horsley and Hong Kim, co-founders of Bitwise, a crypto company
-Emilie Choi, president and chief operating officer of Coinbase, a crypto exchange platform
-Paul Grewal, chief legal officer at Coinbase
-Bart and Bradford Stephens, co-founders of Blockchain Capital

KKR co-chairman and co-CEO George R. Roberts delivers a keynote speech during the New Economy Summit 2015 in Tokyo on April 7, 2015.

KKR co-chairman and co-CEO George R….

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