- Sequoia’s Doug Leone donated over $100,000 to Trump’s 2020 reelection efforts and also donated to Josh Hawley’s 2018 Senate campaign, public records show.
- He spent days declining comment after the insurrection at the Capitol last week, but on Wednesday broke his silence.
- “After last week’s horrific events, President Trump lost many of his supporters, including me,” Leone wrote in a statement emailed to Insider.
- As other pro-Trump business people and tech CEOs condemned last week’s Capitol Hill insurrection, Leone had remained quiet, alongside other, deep-pocketed Trump supporters in Silicon Valley.
- The Capitol Hill riots have renewed calls from some VCs to stop doing business with Trump and his supporters.
- “In a competitive market, founders can get money from a lot of places. I would assume they will want to partner with firms with aligned values and not those who have backed a politician who tried to undermine democracy,” one investor told Insider.
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They donated millions of dollars, hosted fundraisers in their mansions, and advised the Trump transition team.
Yet, in the aftermath of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, Silicon Valley’s conservative Republican backers were nowhere to be found — and some VCs are upset about it.
Take Doug Leone, for example, a billionaire VC and managing partner of Sequoia Capital, one of Silicon Valley’s top firms. As a growing segment of the nation soured on Trump over the last four years, Leone remained a staunch supporter.
But on Wednesday, after nearly a week of silence where Leone and Sequoia declined to comment, and as the House was voting on a historic second impeachment, he spoke up.
“After last week’s horrific events, President Trump lost many of his supporters, including me,” Leone wrote in a statement emailed to Insider.
“The actions of the President and other rally speakers were responsible for inciting the rioters. We need to find the best way to move forward as a country, get behind our newly-elected President, and start working on the many difficult issues facing America,” he said.
Leone’s abandonment of Trump, slow as he may have been to publicly discuss it, is significant. He donated over $100,000 to Trump’s reelection efforts, according to Federal Elections Commission (FEC) data, and has deep ties to top administration officials. (Last year, he lobbied Jared Kushner to save a Sequoia portfolio company, TikTok, from an imminent US ban, and was the only Silicon Valley venture investor picked for a task force that advised Trump on how to reopen the American economy.)
Another donation that stands out among the many donations he made to Republicans in recent years: at least $2,700 in 2018 to Josh Hawley, the GOP Senator from Missouri who voted against certifying the election results after the riots and who has been accused by other lawmakers of helping to incite the mayhem. The donation, documented by the Center for Responsive Politics, has not been previously reported. Leone declined to comment on his support for Hawley.
Other venture capitalists were quicker to denounce last week’s Capitol Hill riots conducted in the president’s name.
But many known supporters have not yet spoken on the topic.
This includes Peter Thiel, the billionaire Founders Fund partner who was once Trump’s most vocal supporter in Silicon Valley, and Palmer Luckey, the multimillionaire cofounder of drone startup Anduril who donated over $800,000 to Trump’s reelection efforts in 2020, according to the FEC. Neither responded to Insider when asked if they still supported the president.
David Blumberg also declined to comment. Blumberg is the managing partner of Blumberg Capital and gave over $100,000 to Trump’s reelection campaign in the last two years, per the FEC.
A representative for said Blumberg told Insider tha he “won’t be commenting on that specific topic at this time, but he’s happy to discuss his predictions for 2021 and how the new Biden administration will impact investors/the investment landscape, if that’s of interest.”
Like many other prominent conservative donors in tech, Leone, Luckey, and Blumberg didn’t air their politics loudly during election season, preferring to let their financial contributions do the talking instead. (Thiel actually sat out Trump’s reelection campaign, though he was such a visible supporter in 2016 that he spoke at the Republican Convention, and hasn’t yet publicly criticized the president.)
Their silence in the ramp up to the riots has come under renewed scrutiny, as Trump’s baseless challenge to the 2020 election results helped encourage a violent mob to attack Capitol last week and prompted Democrats to reintroduce articles of impeachment.
“It’s incomprehensible that someone like Peter Thiel is now silent on his support for Trump,” one Los Angeles-based investor who didn’t want to be named given the sensitivity of the topic, told Insider. Peter Thiel is now living in Los Angeles, and as of 2018 was still defending his decision to back Trump in 2016, if not exactly doubling down on continued support.
“I plea with other leaders in the venture industry to do all that they can to publicly state or condemn what happened,” the person added.
Thiel’s quiet loss of faith in the president is a stark change from the early days of Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, when the billionaire investor served on the president’s transition team and donated $1.25 million to the campaign. Other Founders Fund investors participated on the team as well, including its cofounder Ken Howery, who became the Ambassador to Sweden, and Trae Stephens, who was a principal at the firm at the time.
Stephens, who is now a partner at the firm, has not remained silent. He tweeted that Republicans bore “at least part of the responsibility” for the insurrection and defended election integrity and the peaceful transition of power.
While many VCs hoped to move on from the political drama of 2020 and the Trump presidency, last week’s riots renewed calls for the industry to divorce itself completely from doing business with Trump and his supporters.
“I think founders have to make their own choice about who they want to work with and politics is one of many different avenues to think about when they’re making decisions,” said Garry Tan, co-founder of Initialized Capital who worked with Thiel as employee number 10 at Palantir.
Others are already pressuring their peers to stop doing deals with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House advisor. And Vinod Khosla, the founder of Khosla Ventures, went even farther, tweeting that Silicon Valley shouldn’t be working with Trump or any of his supporters.
“It will be interesting to see how founders think about partnering with individuals and firms who financed Trump,” one Silicon Valley investor wrote to Insider, referencing Sequoia and Founders Fund. Both firms have profited handsomely from the recent IPO boom, with lucrative exits from companies like Airbnb, DoorDash, and Asana.
Sequoia and Founders Fund declined to comment for this article.
“In a competitive market, founders can get money from a lot of places. I would assume they will want to partner with firms with aligned values and not those who have backed a politician who tried to undermine democracy,” the person added, requesting to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Many CEOs across the business world denounced last week’s mob violence, including tech CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai. Among those voicing their discontent were also Trump’s longtime backers, a stark contrast to the silence of deep-pocketed conservative donors like Leone and Thiel.
Longtime Trump ally and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, for example, issued a statement saying he was “shocked and horrified” by the insurrection and called for a peaceful transition.
And Trump donor Ronald Lauder, the billionaire chairman of Estee Lauder Cos, told Bloomberg News’ Devon Pendleton and Anders Melin that he condemned the “thugs and criminals” who “epitomized the worst elements of society by vandalizing the sacred halls and chambers of Congress.”