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The Buzz

Days before Hawley launched Google probe, Peter Thiel donated to his Senate campaign

Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel made the maximum contribution to Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley four days before Hawley’s office launched an investigation into Google.

Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook, wrote two checks to Hawley’s Senate campaign on Nov. 9 totaling $5,400, the maximum contribution for a federal race. Four days later, Hawley’s office announced that it was launching an anti-trust investigation into Google.

Thiel had previously donated $300,000 to Hawley’s successful 2016 campaign for attorney general, which took place before the state’s new limits on campaign contributions went into effect.

Those donations received scrutiny in November because Thiel, who funded Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, had previously called Google a monopoly and during a 2012 panel in Aspen contended that investing in Google is “betting against innovation.”

Thiel Capital, the billionaire’s San Francisco-based investment firm, did not respond to an inquiry about Thiel’s support for Hawley.

Hawley’s office in November sidestepped questions about a possible link between Thiel’s political support and the Google investigation. On Monday, his state spokeswoman, Loree Anne Paradise, more explicitly dismissed the idea of a connection.

“The answer to your question is no,” Paradise said in an email when asked if there was a connection or whether Thiel knew that the investigation would happen before the donations were made.

Hawley’s campaign spokeswoman, Kelli Ford, gave a more emphatic answer rejecting the suggestion of a tie between the donations and the investigation.

“Of course not,” Ford said in an email. “As he has said many times before, Josh is proud to take on big and powerful corporations that are threatening Missouri consumers. Does Claire McCaskill oppose that?” 

McCaskill’s campaign did not immediately comment on the donations, but Austin Petersen, one of Hawley’s rivals for the GOP nomination, criticized the investigation in an email.

“Thiel’s donation came only 4 days prior to Hawley announcing an investigation into Google. As a board member of both Facebook and Palantir, two direct competitors to Google, there is no question that Thiel stands to benefit if Google takes a hit. This is exactly the kind of swampy pay-to-play politics that Missouri voters came out in droves to put an end to in 2016,” Petersen said.

The ongoing investigation hinges on whether the search engine giant has violated Missouri’s consumer protection and anti-trust laws.

“They are quite possibly the most powerful corporation in the world, collect more private personal information … than any corporation in the history of the world. And they are using it and they are selling it,” Hawley said in December. “And I want to know how they’re using it.”

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3

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