LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman wants to get more Democrats elected to Congress this fall, but first, he has to defeat some Democrats this summer.
The billionaire is spending millions on campaigns against what his advisors see as radical, far-left Democrats in hopes of getting more moderate Democrats to November’s general elections, where the party will have a better chance of beating Republicans and maintaining control of Congress.
Hoffman has already donated over $4 million to the 2022 midterm election cycle, including almost $2 million to the Mainstream Democrats PAC and the House Majority PAC, combined. The political action committees have either taken aim at what Hoffman’s political strategist called “extremist” candidates or backed their opponents running in House races.
“Our political philanthropy is focused on weakening the political power of the anti-American Trump-MAGA movement,” said Dmitri Mehlhorn, Hoffman’s chief political advisor. “Far left groups, such as the Justice Democrats, help the MAGA movement by attacking centrist Democrats who can win general elections.”
Hoffman is backing PACs that oppose candidates who have links to the Justice Democrats, a political action committee that supports members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The caucus is a group of some of the most liberal and outspoken Democrats in the House, including Rep. Maxine Waters, of California, and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jerrold Nadler, both of New York.
“Given the damage the Justice Democrats and their allies have done to the Democrats brand, we had to put some modest capital into fighting back,” Mehlhorn said, declining further comment about Hoffman’s next round of donations.
In a recent meeting with some of the nation’s wealthiest financiers, Hoffman warned that if Republican candidates with deep loyalties to former President Donald Trump win in the 2022 midterm elections, they could “install Trump in 2024 regardless of the vote,” according to Puck News and The Washington Post. He called the GOP candidates “MAGA leaders.”
Hoffman has been a major political donor for years, including during the 2020 election, when he actively raised money for President Joe Biden’s campaign and donated over $2 million toward super PACs backing Biden’s candidacy for the White House. Super PACs, such as the Mainstream Democrats, can spend and raise an unlimited amount of money to take on their opponents.
Hoffman and the Mainstream Democrats PAC did not respond to requests for comment.
Hoffman hosted a virtual fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee last year, with tickets going for up to $875,000. Biden thanked Hoffman for his “generous support” during the event, according to a White House transcript of the president’s remarks.
Federal Election Commission records show Hoffman has already contributed $500,000 this election cycle to the Mainstream Democrats PAC, which is campaigning against liberal Democrats running against moderates in their primary election fights. The donation, which was sent to the PAC in February, is one of the top contributions to the outside group so far. It’s raised just over $2.6 million in the 2022 election cycle and spent almost the same amount in Democratic primaries, according to FEC records.
House Majority PAC Executive Director Abby Curran Horrell praised Hoffman and said the PAC looks forward to working with him again.
“House Majority PAC is grateful to Reid Hoffman for his support of our shared goals to win competitive House races, secure a House Democratic Majority, and protect our democracy — and we look forward to continuing our work together,” Horrell said in a statement to CNBC. The House Majority PAC is a so-called hybrid PAC, which can contribute to campaigns and act as a super PAC at the same time.
Hoffman is part of a growing group of Democratic tech executives who favor more moderate candidates, according to one Democratic political strategist, who asked not to be named in order to speak freely about private conversations with clients. Those donors believe more-liberal Democrats can’t win in a general election in toss-up districts and will undercut the party’s chances of controlling Congress, said the strategist, who isn’t advising Hoffman but has other big donors as clients in the tech field.
“People like Reid are having the reaction of: These Democrats are useless. They are killing these moderates off. What’s the alternative? You can’t go to the Republicans because they have these people who are completely off the wall,” this advisor said.
David Tamasi, a veteran lobbyist and Republican fundraiser, said in an interview that the money Hoffman’s putting toward taking on Trump-aligned Republicans may not be enough to stop them from getting elected in November, with many using the economy as part of their campaign message.
“You have to be very strategic and have a real good understanding of the race dynamics so that the money you’re putting in can be additive and not canceled out because $5-a-gallon gas relentlessly communicated through earned media is going to overwhelm whatever you put in,” Tamasi said.
Justice Democrats was formed after the 2016 election by alumni and allies of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president. Its sole purpose is to back progressive Democratic candidates. The group has backed members of the so-called Squad, which includes Reps. Ocasio-Cortez; Ayanna Pressley, of Massachusetts; Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota; Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan; Jamaal Bowman, of New York; and Cori Bush, of Missouri.
All of these lawmakers are part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Hoffman-funded Mainstream Democrats PAC has taken on Jessica Cisneros, who lost in the primary for a House seat in Texas, and Nina Turner, a Sanders ally, who lost in the primary for a House seat in Ohio. Both candidates were backed by the Justice Democrats. Records show the Mainstream Democrats PAC spent over $150,000 against Turner.
Mehlhorn, Hoffman’s advisor, said the Mainstream Democrats PAC is among several groups he sees as a counterweight to Democrats and Republicans he labeled as “extremists.”
“The Mainstream Democrats Project is one of several initiatives designed to help Democrats capture the center and win elections against Democratic extremists in primaries and Republican extremists in the general elections,” he said.
The Mainstream Democrats PAC is tied to Defending Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel advocacy group that runs a political action committee that spent over $1 million opposing Sanders during the 2020 election, records show.
Still, according to people familiar with the matter, Hoffman’s six-figure donation to Mainstream Democrats PAC and his other contributions so far are just the beginning this cycle for the longtime political donor, with more money set to go toward such groups in the coming months. These people declined to be named in order to speak freely about private deliberations.
The outside groups backed by Hoffman have, so far, seen mixed results.
Data from OpenSecrets shows the Mainstream Democrats PAC spent over $750,000 backing Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, in the buildup to his primary runoff against Cisneros. Cuellar has said he is a “pro-life” Democrat and was the only lawmaker in his party who voted against a House bill last year that would codify abortion rights protections.
Cisneros conceded to Cuellar last week after calling for a recount. The race was decided by less than 300 votes, according to NBC News.
Fellow House moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., saw over $580,000 from the PAC backing him, while his opponent, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, saw just under $200,000 spent against her in the primary fight. Schrader, who was endorsed by Biden, recently conceded to McLeod-Skinner.
The House Majority PAC spent almost $1 million backing Carrick Flynn in a House primary in Oregon. Flynn conceded in his race to Oregon state Rep. Andrea Salinas, who was backed by progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
The Cook Political Report says the races for Cuellar’s Texas district and Oregon’s 5th district, where McLeod-Skinner won, are both toss-ups. Salinas’ targeted Oregon district is marked by Cook Political Report as “likely Democrat” and is not expected to be competitive.
In a statement to CNBC, Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid ripped Hoffman for financing the group opposing Cisneros and explained that their progressive PAC is working to “align the party with its working-class base.”
“Billionaire Reid Hoffman financing an extreme pro-NRA, anti-union, and anti-choice Democrat in Henry Cuellar’s candidacy in the name of ‘Mainstream Democrats’ is disgraceful,” Shahid said in an email. “If the Democratic Party was backing principals like Jamaal Bowman, nurses like Cori Bush, bartenders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or human rights attorneys like Jessica Cisneros, then Justice Democrats wouldn’t have to exist.”
Separately, Hoffman has had preliminary conversations with data and tech specialists as they’ve pitched to him the concept of funding another data startup, with the idea of the type of venture that could help Democrats with voter registration and overall analytics in the upcoming elections, according to people familiar with the matter.
Hoffman has yet to agree to the pitch, these people explained, after he invested almost $20 million in a data-based nonprofit called Alloy during the 2020 election cycle, which later shut down after the Democratic National Committee decided against working with it.
The DNC announced in July that it is investing $25 million in new tools to help register voters for the midterms, with some of those funds going to what the committee describes as the “largest tech team in the history of the DNC.”
A spokesman for the DNC did not respond to a request for comment.