Airbnb money turns SF Democrat blue into sickening green

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/on-guard/

Democrats for sale! Democrats for sale!

Airbnb funneled more than $32,000 into the otherwise sleepy race for the Democratic County Central Committee, and Wednesday night that same body voted against a measure that would’ve called out Airbnb’s shady shenanigans.

The measure, authored by DCCC (Dee-Triple-Cee) member Meagan Levitan and co-sponsored by democratic heavyweights Sen. Dianne Feinstein and State Sen. Mark Leno, would’ve put the Democrats on record supporting legislation by Supervisor David Campos.

That legislation calls for Airbnb to delist from its website law-breaking homesharers who threaten housing throughout San Francisco.

Deep in the California State Building on Wednesday, the Democrats instead approved a strange, alternate-universe measure that weakened that support.

For funsies, I’ve dubbed this political maneuver the “Tom Hsieh Sway,” in honor of the democratic board member who deftly delivered Airbnb a win.

Snap your fingers. The first step in the Tom Hsieh Sway was to secure votes beforehand. Airbnb’s money conquers all.

The tech-hotel giant contributed $20,000 to a political committee to support Hsieh and his political allies on what they call the “Progress Slate” candidates running for DCCC this June. Airbnb contributed $2,500 to each of Hsieh’s allies on the committee: Zoe Dunning, Mary Jung, Rebecca Prozan, Alix Rosenthal and Leah Pimentel.

Gee-whiz, such a coinkydink the people taking money from Airbnb voted against a measure to call for its regulation.

And more up-to-date financial fillings are coming as I type this – I’ll have the newest eye-popping contributions in my Tuesday column (Preview: Google cares about the DCCC?!).

According to Levitan, the head of the Office of Short-Term Rentals — “Kevin Guy himself” — said 5,000 San Francisco Airbnb users will never register with the homesharing office to verify their legality.

Only Airbnb has the power to find and de-list all the bad actors at once, Levitan said. So the Democrats must make a stand and call for just that.

DCCC member Matt Dorsey, a rational democrat who works in the City Attorney’s Office (read: far from a fiery-lefty), said, “Right now, San Francisco has a terrible housing crisis. What we don’t have is a tourist accommodation crisis.”

And our $4,000 rents worsen when Airbnb possibly yanks 2,000 potential rental units off the market. The City’s vacancy level hovers around a scarce 8,000 or so units.

The second do-si-do in Tom Hsieh’s Sway was to propose an amendment that gutted any call for consequences for Airbnb in Levitan’s measure. It also added about 25 other companies — like VRBO and Home Away — to the measure’s language.

Hsieh argued his amendment strengthened the measure. “There’s a lot of platforms,” he said. “I’d like to help make this a more fair proposal.”

In reality, a resolution strongly condemning only the lead actor, Airbnb, carries heftier political weight. Words have power.

Hsieh’s moderate allies voted to approve his red-herring laden amendment. DCCC member Petra DeJesus stormed out of the room, infuriated.

Hsieh smiled. Calm. Poised. Genial.

Perhaps because the final move in the Tom Hsieh Sway was ingenious. Almost perverse.

He essentially changed the fundamental meaning of the Airbnb measure — weakening it, twisting it — forcing the very people who proposed it to vote against it.

Levitan saw the game for what it was.

“If you agree with it, support it. If you don’t, don’t,” she told Hsieh.

That was not to be. Levitan, and proxies of both Feinstein and Leno, each voted against the Bizarro version of their own measure. It was approved by Hsieh’s moderates and won.

Leno later told On Guard, “No industry should have such an outsize influence on the working of a democratic deliberation.”

He’s right. But few will know how corporate Airbnb money flooded our Democratic party, turning the beloved blue a sickening shade of green. That’s how you dance the Tom Hsieh Sway.

Boogie down, Democrats. Boogie down.

These DCCC members voted with Airbnb’s interests: Kat Anderson, Joshua Arce, Zoe Dunning, Bill Fazio, Tom Hsieh, Mary Jung, Trevor McNeil, Leah Pimentel, Rebecca Prozan, Alex Rosenthal, Francis Tsang, Scott Wiener and Marjan Philhour.

These DCCC members voted against the gutted, twisted, Airbnb measure: Petra DeJesus, Bevan Dufty, Matt Dorsey, Hene Kelley, Meagan Levitan, Rafael Mandelman, Eric Mar, Dianne Feinstein, Jackie Speier, Mark Leno and Phil Ting.

David Chiu abstained.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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