The TikTok drama shines a highlight on the uncommon tech investor who’s backing Trump

Venture capitalist Doug Leone seen arriving at the Sun Valley Conference. Doug Leone and his spouse have donated $400,000 to spice up Trump. | Drew Angerer/Getty Pictures

Doug Leone, who has backed each TikTok and Trump, could possibly be the bridge between the 2.

The last word destiny of TikTok could possibly be formed partially by the efforts of 1 billionaire tech investor who has earned the excellence of being a very uncommon sort of Silicon Valley unicorn: a serious donor to Donald Trump.

ByteDance, the Chinese language guardian firm of the hit video sharing app, is in a boxing match with the Trump administration, which has threatened to ban it from the US subsequent month. However TikTok has an investor who looms giant within the drama due to his private ties and entry to the White Home.

Doug Leone, one of many leaders of certainly one of Silicon Valley’s most celebrated companies, Sequoia Capital, and his spouse collectively have given about $400,000 over the past two years to Trump’s marketing campaign and affiliated teams such because the Republican Nationwide Committee and a pro-Trump tremendous PAC. That makes the Leones two of the very greatest donors to Trump in Silicon Valley, the place enterprise leaders have virtually fully run away from publicly backing the President.

Now, the hyperlinks between Leone and Trump could form the ending of one of the advanced enterprise and geopolitical tales of 2020. Leone has informed “folks he may use his affect with Trump to assist the corporate,” the Washington Publish reported this weekend. Leone deliberate to achieve out to Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, two high Trump aides who’ve each been integral to Trump fundraising efforts, “to see what it could take to save lots of TikTok,” the Wall Road Journal added.

The tales present how cultivating ties with the White Home will pay dividends, even when the donations weren’t born from a premeditated lobbying push.

Leone declined to remark. Trump’s marketing campaign didn’t return a request for remark.

TikTok and Microsoft — the corporate that’s searching for to buy it and circumvent a threatened ban of the app — each have built-out Washington operations with professionals that twist arms for a dwelling. In any case, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke with Trump straight concerning the potential deal. However one hallmark of Trump’s Washington has been that convincing the administration to take a sure motion generally is a extremely irregular course of, pushed by private relationships and entry to Trump advisers, each formal and casual. Plus, Trump has displayed a well-documented obsession with whether or not somebody has proven loyalty to his “group” or not.

Leone, a longtime Republican, reportedly has that entry. And whereas Trump won’t know Leone effectively sufficient to choose him out of a lineup, suffice it to say that not each Silicon Valley enterprise capitalist can jawbone the Secretary of the Treasury or the president’s son-in-law to assist a portfolio firm.

It’s nonetheless unclear whether or not Leone’s outreach has really completed something. And there’s no proof that Leone solely will get an viewers due to a number of hundred thousand bucks in donations. To make sure, Sequoia’s world managing associate is a distinguished enterprise chief in his personal proper. Exactly why somebody will get a name returned — Is it the donations? His stature? A bit of little bit of each? — is inconceivable to know.

Leone is an exception in tech. The liberal tech trade has been preventing with Trump since his first day on points like immigration. Actually, Leone’s co-leader at Sequoia for a very long time, Michael Moritz, this cycle has given tens of millions to spice up Democrats. Silicon Valley has made supporting Trump one thing of a scarlet letter, a lot in order that even the few leaders who do again him now really feel strain to take action quietly. That’s what makes Leone’s public donations uncommon, particularly within the image-conscious world of enterprise capital.

When Recode wrote final 12 months concerning the Leones’ presents to Trump — then measuring solely about $100,000 — some main voices in tech spoke to the legal responsibility that the donations may pose to Sequoia, despite the fact that it’s typically thought to be the highest-performing investing agency in Silicon Valley.

Swati Mylavarapu, a former enterprise capitalist who’s now a high Silicon Valley Democratic fundraiser, put it this manner on Sunday:

That legal responsibility stays very actual. However what the information over the weekend makes clear is that there’s an upside — less-obvious, to make sure — that enhances it. Certainly one of Sequoia’s most profitable investments is in ByteDance, with Sequoia’s stake stated to be value as a lot as $15 billion. And whereas the presents from Leone have been made in a private capability and formally don’t have anything to do with Sequoia, his agency may gain advantage from the private donations if they assist preserve the worth of TikTok.

The few different Silicon Valley marquee names who’ve supported Trump have reaped some rewards. Peter Thiel, who braved important blowback to offer over $1 million to spice up Trump throughout his 2016 run, has stocked the administration together with his allies and former aides. Larry Ellison, who hosted a fundraiser that introduced $7 million to Trump’s coffers earlier this 12 months, has pressed Trump to publicly push hydroxychloroquine, an experimental drug remedy for the coronavirus that Ellison favors.

Leone is a a lot lower-profile billionaire than these two titans. Some Trump fundraisers exterior of Silicon Valley say they haven’t even heard of him.

However with this a lot cash on the road — and this a lot worldwide intrigue at play — having him on TikTok’s aspect can solely assist.

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