Reports Peg Tech Billionaire As Funder Of Hulk Hogan's Case Against Gawker

By Alina Selyukh

Peter Thiel, head of Clarium Capital Management and founding investor in PayPal and Facebook, speaks at a conference in San Francisco on April 12.

Peter Thiel, head of Clarium Capital Management and founding investor in PayPal and Facebook, speaks at a conference in San Francisco on April 12. Noah Berger/Bloomberg/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Noah Berger/Bloomberg/Getty Images

It’s been one of those speculative rumors, that some Silicon Valley third party was powering Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media and its owner Nick Denton, over a publication in 2012 of a sex tape.

“My own personal hunch is that it’s linked to Silicon Valley,” Denton told The New York Times, about the Hulk Hogan case and several new lawsuits that the same lawyer has brought against Gawker and its writers.

Now, anonymous sources tell Forbes magazine and The New York Times that the man footing the bill is Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, early Facebook investor and a prominent Silicon Valley financier.

The Times, citing “a person briefed on the arrangement who spoke on the condition of anonymity,” said Thiel had privately agreed to help pay the expenses of the legal team representing the former celebrity wrestler, whose legal name is Terry Bollea.

Forbes, citing “people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity,” said Thiel has played a lead role in bankrolling Bollea’s cases against Gawker.

Thiel, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has been a curious figure in Silicon Valley. He has staked out a strong libertarian position and in 2012 boosted the superPAC supporting Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. This campaign season, he has emerged as a California delegate for Donald Trump.

Thiel has also been vocal about his view that higher education has been overly valued in the United States, and in 2011 established a fellowship to fund entrepreneurial work by college-age students if they drop out of school for two years.

Thiel has had several run-ins with Gawker’s reporting on his political and financial decisions, but the most prominent incident was in 2007, when the website’s then-running gossip vertical Valleywag outed Thiel’s sexual orientation in a post titled, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”

Thiel, who is now open about being gay, later called Valleywag “the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.”

Thiel and Bollea’s lawyer haven’t commented on the possible financial arrangement between them. As Forbes points out, it wouldn’t be an uncommon deal:

“It is not illegal for an outside entity to help fund another party’s lawsuit, and the practice, known as ‘third-party litigation funding’ has become increasingly common in the U.S. Typically, the outside party negotiates for a defined share of any proceeds from the suit.”

As the Two-Way blog reported in March, Bollea argued that Gawker invaded his privacy “when it published a portion of a video showing him having sex with the wife of a former friend, along with 1,400 words describing the video.”

Gawker argued that Bollea’s “frequent public discussion of his sex life made the clip newsworthy and thus protected by the First Amendment.”

A jury in Florida has awarded Bollea $140 million in damages, more than he had requested. Gawker is appealing the verdict.

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