JD Vance Charts GOP Push Against Big Tech With Help From Thiel
(Bloomberg) -- Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance says his Silicon Valley experience makes him ideal to take on big technology companies, a favorite target of Republicans, but he’ll have to brush off attacks from rivals who question his sincerity on tech issues.
Vance says that tech firms wield too much influence on politics and the economy and that the industry unfairly censors conservative viewpoints. While it’s a familiar talking point for Republicans seeking public office, it presents an acute challenge for Vance, who built a career as a venture capitalist and is supported by tech titans.
Vance, a Yale Law School graduate, argues that his background in technology makes him best equipped to dismantle the “big tech oligarchy.” Yet his connections invite attacks from rivals as someone who made his money in Silicon Valley and is backed by a super political action committee that received $10 million from technology billionaire Peter Thiel.
In his initial quarter of fundraising, Vance also got funding from Thiel and David Sacks, co-founder and general partner of Craft Ventures and a former chief operating officer of PayPal Holdings Inc.
“JD Vance is clearly a smart person who has an interesting perspective, but in the modern Republican Party, going to Yale is a disadvantage, and making your money in an industry that hates Republicans is a disadvantage times ten,” said Mark Weaver, a Republican consultant in Ohio, who isn’t working with candidates in the senate race.
Vance, 37, started his venture capital career working for Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management LLC. He also worked for Revolution LLC created by AOL co-founder Steve Case. Vance, who rose to fame as the bestselling author of a memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” is a co-founder and partner in Narya Capital Management LLC, a venture capital firm.
As part of his bid to replace retiring Senator Rob Portman, Vance advocates for breaking up companies including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Meta Platforms Inc., the company formerly known as Facebook, Twitter Inc., Amazon.com, and Apple Inc., because they’re “way too powerful for the common good.”
In September, Vance signed on to an Ohio lawsuit to have Google regulated like a public utility arguing its search results are skewed against conservatives.
Alphabet’s chief executive officer, Sundar Pichai, has testified before Congress that results are derived by algorithm and not by political bias. Other technology companies have also denied the censorship allegations. But Vance said Google, Meta and Twitter try to “hide behind the algorithmic explanation for censorship.”
Vance said big tech is among the top three issues in the Ohio Senate race and a major issue in other 2022 midterm election contests.
Former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, one of Vance’s top rivals for the GOP nomination in the Ohio race, calls Vance “a total phony and a total fraud” and “a lapdog” for Silicon Valley interests.
Mandel says technology interests are helping fund Vance politically with the Super PAC money from Thiel and personally through investments in Narya Capital by big Silicon Valley names including Thiel and Eric Schmidt, a former Google chief executive officer.
Vance calls Thiel’s support “a badge of honor, not something to run from.” But he added that most Ohio voters don’t know who Thiel is and those familiar with him know that he backed former President Donald Trump. So that should outweigh any concerns over Thiel’s backing, Vance said.
Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and current Meta board member, didn’t respond to messages left for comment.
Vance argues that his career could be an asset in helping conservatives wage the bias battle.
“Actually having somebody with some inside knowledge of how the industry operates might make conservatives a little bit more effective at challenging these companies and not just having circles run around them in these technology hearings on Capitol Hill,” Vance said.
Robert Cahaly, a Republican pollster in Georgia who’s not involved in the Ohio Senate race, said conservatives consider Thiel ideologically aligned with them -- and it’s not an effective argument with them to say that someone from the technology industry can’t reform it.
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