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Recallapalooza: Sacks v. Newsom, Round 2 

You’ll probably recall that some of tech’s buzziest names last year tried to dethrone Gavin Newsom in a recall election that backfired catastrophically when Newsom thrashed the petition by 23 points. Now, I have learned that some of those same tech figures are quietly gearing up for a second round of battle.

The vessel this time is Michael Shellenberger, a provocative author and homelessness advocate whose 2021 book, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities argues… well, the title should make it clear enough. The book was well-read by those in tech’s more conservative circles, and now Shellenberger is running for governor as an independent. 

California has a “top-two” system where the finalists in the June primary make the fall general-election ballot. Ordinarily those finalists are a credible Republican and a credible Democrat, but in such a weak G.O.P. field, after Newsom demolished the recall effort last fall, maybe there’s a chance for Shellenberger to make it in two weeks if he can crawl up to, say, just shy of 20 percent, even if he finishes a distant second behind Newsom. And then once you’re in the top two against Newsom, in a tough year nationally for Democrats, who knows what can happen?

Making the top two might only require $1 million or so in outside money. And Silicon Valley is preparing to foot the bill. David Sacks, the venture capitalist-cum-podcaster, has put $150,000 into the effort behind a quiet new effort called Safe CA, Inc., a super PAC, and an allied dark-money nonprofit, Safe Sidewalks, that is waging a last-minute campaign to get Shellenberger into the final two, I am told. The group is guided by Luke Thompson, the well-connected G.O.P. operative who is coming off successfully running a super PAC funded by Sacks’ friend Peter Thiel to elect J.D. Vance in Ohio. The combined effort is raising somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million primarily for television ads to run in the final two weeks, probably just in a few select markets. Given that ballots are already out in California, and people are already voting, time is running short.

Shellenberger has other fans in tech, such as former Y Combinator chief Sam Altman, who maxed out to the campaign directly, but the continued ascendance of Sacks in G.O.P. circles is worth noting. Sacks, working with a Washington hand named Chris Massey, is an increasingly influential figure in G.O.P. fundraising circles—I’ve talked to several Republican fundraisers who are watching him like a hawk, paying close attention to what he is deciding to fund.