Teachers and nurses say tech, real estate spending unduly influencing SF politics


A report issued Thursday by a coalition of teachers and nurses raises questions about the growing influence of real estate and technology spending on public policy — ranging from large charitable donations made on behalf of politicians, to political contributions of deep-pocketed tech investors like Ron Conway.

More than 40 people gathered at 7 a.m. Thursday morning outside the Four Seasons hotel on Market Street, the residence Conway has listed on his voter registration.

Their goal was to “wake up” Conway with the message The City was “not for sale.”

Conway, Mayor Ed Lee’s most prominent backer, was the largest single donor among 115 large tech companies and investors between 2004 and September 2015, with contributions totaling $927,200, according to the “Tech and Real Estate Money in San Francisco City Politics” report issued by Jobs with Justice, a coalition of nurses, teachers and tenants unions.

“Tech and real estate are the ones driving the economy, driving up inequality, driving up rents at the same time also dominating our political system,” Kung Feng, an organizer with Jobs with Justice, told the San Francisco Examiner outside Conway’s residence.

Between 2004 and 2015, Salesforce.com contributed a total of $638,585, the founder of Napster and first president of Facebook Sean Parker contributed a total of $449,000 and short-term rental company Airbnb contributed a total of $335,400.

In an email, mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Mayor Lee “views his job as one to make sure that everyone shares” in the rising prosperity.

“That means free Muni for low income youth, more shelter for homeless families and historic investments in our middle schools; these are just a few of the public private partnerships underway,” Falvey said. “He absolutely expects businesses, developers and others who are in a position to, to give back and he’ll keep pushing for more support.”

The report is based on real estate and tech-related political contributions reported to the Ethics Commission. It does not examine contributions from other sectors like labor unions.

Mayor Lee benefited from $427,650 in political contributions from the tech industry, “nearly ten times more than his predecessor Gavin Newsom.”

Current supervisors who received the most tech contributions were Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell at $21,975 and $17,050 respectively, according to the report.

Wiener, who had not reviewed the report, noted that he receives donations from thousands of people from all walks of life, not just the tech sector, “who just want to see The City be a better place.”

“My record speaks for itself,” Wiener said.

Wiener also suggested the focus on Conway was misplaced. “People want to find a boogeyman. The fact is Ron Conway does not controlCity Hall.”

So-called “behested payments,” or gifts, are also on the rise. Behested payments are not considered campaign contributions, but are made at the “behest” of elected officials to be used for legislative, governmental or charitable purposes, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Since 2004, there was a total of $20.5 million in these kinds of donations of which nearly half came from the technology industry. Of the total, $16 million were made on Mayor Lee’s behalf. Google topped the behested payments with a $6.8 million donation to Muni, followed by Conway at $1 million.

The real estate industry’s largest 80 companies and investors contributed $10.7 million in local political contributions between 2004 and
September 2015 with Lee receiving $307,075, surpassing the $77,550 Newsom received when he was mayor between 2004 and 2011.

Ken Tray, the political director for the teacher’s union United Educators of San Francisco, was among those gathered on Market Street.

“The pay-to-play folks like Ron Conway are pushing a kind of a gentrification that benefits one group of people and another group is bearing the burden,” Tray said. “You can go to any school site in this city and you will find the fear and the anxiety of folks about whether or not they can stay in The City.”

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