The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journaland published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
The co-founder of LinkedIn, a Silicon Valley-based professional networking website, poured more than $82,000 into Ohio’s statewide and legislative races this year, campaign finance records show.
The contributions from Reid Hoffman — a venture capitalist who was also an early executive of PayPal — make him the second most prolific individual donor in state politics this year, according to an analysis of state campaign finance records. He trails only Virginia Ragan, an heir to hundreds of millions in shares of a Delaware County shipping and manufacturing company who has given millions over the years to Ohio Republicans.
Since 2016, Hoffman has pumped at least $200,000 directly into Ohio politics, mostly backing Democrats. This doesn’t include his $500,000 to a PAC that spent at least $150,000 in a Cleveland-area Democratic congressional primary.
However, in February he gave $13,700 — the legal maximum — apiece to Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both of whom are Republicans. Hoffman gave the same amount to four Democrats running in legislative races.
In an interview, a spokesman said Hoffman since 2016 has given to candidates with his primary focus on supporting the “rule of law.” This has translated more recently into supporting Republicans who rebuffed efforts from President Donald Trump and his allies in the Republican party who sought to subvert the results of the 2020 election.
Hoffman, through his spokesman, expressed regret for the donations to LaRose given his recent public statements lending credence to some of the election fraud claims that underpinned Trump’s efforts.
Of Ohio’s Hoffman-backed Democrats, none have previously held a state legislative office. They’re comprised of:
- Vince Peterson, who’s in a primary for an open seat in the 64th House District
- Sean Brennan, who’s running for an open seat in the 14th House District
- Evan Rosborough, who’s running against incumbent Rep. Jamie Callender in the 57th House District
- Rachel Baker, who’s running in a primary for an open seat in the 27th House District.
Hoffman cited their endorsements from the Welcome PAC, a Democratic operation aimed at electing more moderate candidates into a “big tent” party. A PAC spokesperson didn’t respond to an inquiry.
Federal campaign records show since 2016 he has contributed to Ohio Democrats running for federal office including now-Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval ($2,700), U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown ($5,400), and Congressman Tim Ryan for his Senate campaign ($5,800). He also gave $12,700 to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rich Cordray and $93,000 to the Ohio Democratic Party since 2018.
Hoffman also contributed $500,000 to the Mainstream Democrats PAC, which backed a handful of moderate Democrats facing progressive challengers. The PAC spent more than $150,000 opposing Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and official on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, in her primary against U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown.
After the November 2020 elections, LaRose emerged as a rare voice within the Republican Party acknowledging that Trump lost the election and President Joe Biden won. Speaking to Cleveland.com, he said Trump has a legal right to make a case in court, but he should so so quickly and provide evidence to back up his claims. (Trump lost 64 of 65 his election related lawsuits, according to one count.)
About a year after the Jan. 6 insurrection in which a mob forcibly stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to block Congress from certifying Biden’s win, LaRose began to shift his public posture on the issue. In February 2022, he posted on social media to accuse the media of unfairly downplaying the threat of voter fraud.
“Here they go again,” LaRose said on Twitter. “Mainstream media trying to minimize voter fraud to suit their narrative.”
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)
In April, he appeared alongside Trump at a campaign rally in Delaware County. Trump later took the stage to baselessly claim he would have won Ohio by an even larger margin if not for voter fraud — in an election overseen by LaRose.
Dmitri Mehlhorn, who answered questions on Hoffman’s behalf, initially credited LaRose with rejecting pressure from within his own party to toe the line on Trump’s election lies. But by February 2022, he said LaRose grew more explicit in how it was a “valid line of attack to call the elections illegitimate.” He went on to express donor’s remorse.
“That might have been a case where, if we had to do it over, we probably wouldn’t do that the same,” he said.
A spokesman for the LaRose campaign did not respond to an inquiry.
Uber wealthy people bankrolling state politics is hardly new. However, Hoffman’s contributions stick out for their magnitude and his lack of ties to Ohio. Hoffman grew up in and works in California.
Additionally, perhaps due to Republicans’ political dominance in Ohio, most of the big money tends to concentrate around Republicans.
For instance, after Ragan and Hoffman, the other largest donors of the year to date include Donald Oeters, who previously owned a home leisure sales business ($71,000); Jason Lucarelli, CEO of Minute Men Staffing, and his wife (about $68,000); and retired corporate attorney Geraldine Warner and her family ($64,000). Their donations went to Republicans exclusively.
While Hoffman backed Ryan in his Senate campaign with a few thousand, his former roommate is backing his Republican rival, J.D. Vance. Hoffman, according to the Silicon Valley-focused Puck news outlet, used to live with PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who has pumped $15 million into organizations supporting Vance.