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A little-known Silicon Valley psychiatrist has become one of the Democratic Party’s most powerful donors

You probably haven’t heard of Karla Jurvetson, but she made one of the largest political donations in the entire 2020 presidential campaign last month.

Elizabeth Warren after she announced her withdrawal from the presidential race this month.
Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A little-known Silicon Valley psychiatrist has cemented herself among the most powerful donors in Democratic politics, thanks to a massive gift to support Elizabeth Warren’s failed presidential bid in its final weeks. That money will make her among the most sought after political donors in the country up until November.

Karla Jurvetson, who has slowly been turning heads in the world of Bay Area fundraising, gave a total of $14.6 million in February to a super PAC backing Warren, according to new disclosures filed late Friday night. Those donations together constitute one of the largest gifts of the entire 2020 presidential campaign, and ranks Jurvetson among brand-name Democratic donors like Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer in terms of total contributions to outside groups this cycle — and it makes her the biggest woman donor. In this cycle, Steyer has given about $30 million to liberal groups, and Bloomberg about $15 million, not including their own presidential campaigns.

Jurvetson epitomizes how Silicon Valley donors can come out of nowhere to leave an imprint on politics — something that has happened more often in the Trump era, when wealthy tech executives are more motivated than ever to play electoral politics. Jurvetson, a psychiatrist and the ex-wife of the famous venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, had not been a major Democratic giver prior to 2018, when she gave $5.4 million to a super PAC tied to the pro-choice women’s group Emily’s List. That donation drew raised eyebrows because it was made in shares of a non-American company, Baidu, which is unusual in political fundraising.

Karla Jurvetson smiling photo pose
Karla Jurvetson

But it has been during the 2020 cycle that she became one of the most generous Democratic donors. A strong supporter of female candidates, Jurvetson emerged as one of Warren’s few big-money backers, at one point even buying ads on her behalf in Iowa that the candidate had to disavow. And in a sign of her new influence, when Barack Obama visited Silicon Valley last fall to raise money for the Democratic Party, it was Jurvetson who got to host him.

Jurvetson has now given over $22 million in recent cycles to Democratic candidates and causes.

Jurvetson’s donation to the pro-Warren super PAC, called Persist PAC, is also a reminder of how Warren’s rhetoric did not always match her practice when it came to Silicon Valley money. Warren was the most aggressive candidate toward Big Tech, vowing not to take its contributions and to break up its companies. She lambasted the rest of the presidential field for blessing outside super PACs for months, only to flip in the final weeks of the campaign and support the outside group. And while Warren also criticized her rivals for their ties to Silicon Valley contributors, her dashed presidential hopes in the final weeks were very much dependent on gifts from one of those donors.

Jurvetson has long evaded much notice. But now that the scale of Jurvetson’s giving is fully public, she’ll join the ranks of Silicon Valley billionaires like Reid Hoffman, Dustin Moskovitz, and Sean Parker, whose political funding the Democratic Party is counting on to try to oust Trump in November.