The tech-backing, well-heeled bogeyman Ron Conway is always thought to be working in the shadows. Now, we have the biggest signal yet that he’s swinging his money bags behind London Breed for mayor.
Conway’s wife, Gayle, has personally funded a television attack ad against mayoral candidate Supervisor Jane Kim.
The video premiered on YouTube on Tuesday, lambasting Kim for her vote to keep former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in office following an incident in which he bruised his wife’s arm during a heated argument. By late Tuesday night, the video was taken down. A status-error from YouTube reads: “This video has been removed by the user.”
Gayle Conway is listed as the major funder in a text disclosure at the bottom of the video.
Julie Edwards, Kim’s campaign advisor, lambasted those paying for the ad in a statement.
“Jane Kim will stand up to Donald Trump,” Edwards wrote. “She will stand up to Ron Conway. And she will take this city back for the people who are sick and tired of letting billionaires run our government.”
Tara Moriarty, Breed’s campaign spokesperson, wrote in a statement that Kim benefited from $185,000 in “SuperPAC” money (which, I should point out, was funded by the union SEIU Local 1021, a far cry from the likes of the Conways). Moriarty added, “spare us the hypocrisy.”
Andrea Shorter, who appears in that video denouncing Kim, told me Kim should be accountable for voting to re-instate a domestic abuser. She also said Gayle Conway has a history of supporting anti-domestic violence causes. Shorter said, should Breed win, Ron Conway would not be granted access to the Mayor’s Office for his support.
“There is no implication that standing up and speaking up against domestic violence will be congruent with any political favors,” Shorter said.
So, Conway’s wife donated presumably thousands of dollars (the amounts are not yet public) to trounce Kim. Does that really mean Conway himself funded the attack ad?
While no one should be held accountable for their spouses, it does raise questions — and it’s worth noting that bundling campaign finance contributions with family members is a common political practice; Gayle Conway’s funding has often been bundled with her husband’s in past political campaigns, as well as with their children’s funding. In fact, that’s how they helped fund Breed’s supervisoral run.
Already, a state committee that raised $25,000 from Ron Conway for a previous election, $50,000 from Facebook and at least $150,000 from Airbnb, called Progress San Francisco, has donated $40,000 to the firefighters’ union independent expenditure committee to support Breed in this election.
It’s also a funny moral workaround for the It’s Our Time — Women for London Breed independent expenditure committee. Those committees differ from candidate committees because they are not beholden to $500 contribution limits; they can take all the money they want. They just aren’t allowed to coordinate with candidates.
When the It’s Our Time committee formed, political consultant Nicole Derse told me, “Ron Conway has nothing to do with this IE, and he won’t.”
But the principal officer running It’s Our Time is Shorter, the lone speaker featured in the new attack ad against Kim. San Francisco ethics watchdog Larry Bush said Shorter’s presence in the video highlights the hollow nature of Derse’s promise.
“I think it’s a promise they never intended to keep,” Bush said.
Derse defended that promise and said the independent expenditure committee she is involved in is “not engaged in this effort,” but she supports Shorter’s “right to speak out on an issue that’s super important to San Franciscans.”
This whole ordeal reminds me of when the San Francisco Chronicle tried to convince us that Conway was “too busy” to be engaged in local politics. Hot dang, that news story had “deflect! deflect!” written all over it.
Now, I don’t want to say Gayle Conway has no personal agency to back Breed on her own. She very likely is a big fan of Breed. But the idea that Ron Conway had no input whatsoever on the decision to financially attack Breed’s opponents, which would undoubtedly put the family’s name in the spotlight, strains credulity.
And what’s the big deal about Ron Conway funding attack ads, anyhow? Well, as has been well reported, the late Mayor Ed Lee had an open-door policy with the man, allowing amazing access to an investor in Airbnb, Google and other tech ventures. Perhaps not coincidentally, Lee had a laissez-faire attitude toward regulating the tech industry during his City Hall tenure.
While Breed has recoiled frequently, both publicly and privately, about being labeled a “puppet” of Ron Conway, I think the worry is far more nuanced than that. Breed is headstrong and fierce, and I sincerely doubt she would be anyone’s puppet. But if Conway is granting Breed favors now, it may convince him that he should be repaid favors in turn.
That’s not puppeteering. It’s politics.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.