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Tech billionaires are funding the Democratic Party whether Democrats like it or not

New records show that while Democrats might bash Silicon Valley, they’ll need its money to take on Trump.

Dustin Moskovitz wearing a headset microphone.
Dustin Moskovitz is one of the most closely watched donors in Democratic politics.
AFP via Getty Images

Silicon Valley billionaires are looking well beyond Iowa.

Some of tech’s wealthiest citizens are pouring money into Democratic groups that are meant to back the eventual nominee, whoever that is. While it’s been obvious that Silicon Valley is ready to spend big to oust Donald Trump, the latest batch of federal disclosures this weekend revealed the clearest picture yet its financial firepower.

Those donations serve as a key reminder: Democratic presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren can bash Big Tech and Silicon Valley leaders all they want in the primary, but they’ll need their money in the general election.

The candidates might want the backing of billionaires like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who gave about $2 million late last year to key Democratic groups, the records show. Hoffman donated $1 million and $250,000 to the primary super PACs supporting Senate Democrats and House Democrats, respectively. He kicked in another $250,000 to Fair Fight, a voter registration group helmed by Stacey Abrams, and an equal amount to a super PAC trying to mobilize the Asian American and Pacific Islander vote. Outside groups like these PACs file disclosures just twice a year, revealing the last six months of donation history this weekend.

There’s another essential player, the disclosures show: Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, who gave at least $1.2 million in the second half of 2019 and is one of the party’s most closely watched donors. A Moskovitz-led group, the Open Philanthropy Action Fund, donated $750,000 to Real Justice PAC, a group seeking to elect reform-minded prosecutors. Moskovitz personally gave $450,000 to a grassroots fundraising committee organized by the Democratic National Committee and at least $60,000 to the Wisconsin Democratic Party, which will try to flip a key battleground state in November.

Hoffman and Moskovitz appear to be the two Silicon Valley leaders putting the most money into Democratic causes, according to the latest records. Other donors who were seen injecting hundreds of thousands of dollars into outside groups in just the last six months of 2019 are Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Silicon Valley powerbroker Ron Conway, and Steve Silberstein, a former software executive. Outside groups file disclosures just twice a year, revealing the last six months of donation history this weekend.

One particularly muscular group ahead of November is Acronym, and that’s thanks in part to tech’s largesse. That makes sense, given that Acronym’s focus is on edgier, digital combat with Republican campaigns. Advised by former Uber executive and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, Acronym raked in seven figures from some of the industry’s most prominent venture capitalists, including a $1 million check from Sequoia Capital’s former leader, Michael Moritz.

That gift was a sign of the times in its own right: It was, by far, Moritz’s largest disclosed political contribution ever, and his first gift of any size since 2011.

None of the people mentioned so far have formally endorsed a candidate in the primary. This isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary. Many of the biggest-fish donors across the country have, at least up to now, declined to weigh in on specific candidates, instead trying to funnel their dollars into equipping the eventual nominee with the best possible organizations.

Plus, the places for billionaires to spend the most money are not campaigns — which are subject to $2,800 donation limits — but outside groups, which have no limits at all.

Disclosures from candidates themselves primarily showed the same trend we’ve seen up to now: Tech leaders have largely organized around Pete Buttigieg, the young Midwestern mayor who has embraced Silicon Valley more than other candidates have. Among the ranks of Buttigieg donors at the maximum $2,800 level in the last three months of 2019 were: Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire philanthropist who sat down privately with Buttigieg in September; famed venture capitalist John Doerr; and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham.

But in yet another sign of the times, one previous Buttigieg donor stood out on the fundraising reports of some of his rivals: Justin Rosenstein. Rosenstein was an early employee at Facebook and is credited with coming up with the “Like” button.

The two candidates he backed to the maximum amount? Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, both of whom want to break up his former employer.