Tech investor, SF mayoral backer Ron Conway continues to sink big bucks into local elections

Money from the mayor’s most prominent backer — tech investor Ron Conway — is predictably showing up in San Francisco’s most watched election contest. That contest this November will decide who will represent Chinatown and North Beach on the Board of Supervisors next year.

Earlier this year, Conway contributed $500, the maximum amount allowed, to Mayor Ed Lee’s District 3 appointee to the board Julie Christensen, as did several of his family members. On July 1, Conway contributed $28,250 to the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth political action committee for political polling, according to campaign records filed Aug. 6 with the Ethics Commission.

Conway’s representative, Alex Tourk, a lobbyist, confirmed to the Examiner that his contribution paid for a poll related to the District 3 race.

The Alliance for Jobs is supporting Christensen over the more progressive Aaron Peskin, who is vying to return to the seat he held between 2001 and 2009. The committee was also the first to report third-party spending in the race: $2,713 on Aug. 5 for a political flier supporting Christensen.

But questions have been raised by Peskin’s campaign staff whether the Conway-paid poll, among other committee spending, should also have been reported as a third-party expenditure for the contest. Candidate spending caps are raised based on the total amount of third-party spending against a candidate under The City’s public financing program. Neutral polling for research is not considered a third-party expenditure, but push polls are.

Assistant treasurer for the Alliance for Jobs committee Jonathan Mintzer would not comment on the contribution nor would he refer an Examiner reporter to someone who would. “I don’t know anything about that. I can’t help you,” Mintzer said, before hanging up the phone. Tourk said he could only speak on behalf of Conway and his expenditure, not how the money was reported by Alliance for Jobs.

Former Ethics Commissioner Eileen Hansen said she would be filing a complaint with the Ethics Commission Thursday about what she said was a failure on part of the Alliance for Jobs to properly report third-party spending, which would prompt an investigation. She estimates $150,000 in third-party has gone unreported.

Conway’s large sum political contributions have become endemic in San Francisco’s elections since Lee became mayor in 2011 – with the help of Conway’s support, including his $25,000 contribution to a political committee supporting Lee’s 2011 mayoral election.

Critics of Lee’s policies as they relate to such areas as regulations of technology companies or housing development often point to the mayor’s cozy relationship with Conway as having an undue influence. Conway backs the mayor’s ballot measures and political allies up for election. For example, he donated $70,000 to the mayor’s transportation bond last year. In 2012, Conway donated $250,000 to the mayor’s tax reform measure, strongly backed by the labor-intensive tech companies as it shifted The City’s business tax on payroll to gross receipts.

The Alliance for Jobs includes such members as the Police Officers Association, the Chamber of Commerce, downtown building owners and construction trade union Laborers Local 261. As of June 30, the Alliance for Jobs committee had raised $155,000.

Judging by past hard fought supervisor races, a flood of third-party spending will show up in the District 3 race. There are no spending or fundraising limits on third-party groups or ballot measure campaigns, whereas donations to candidates are capped at $500 per person.

In the November 2012 election $177,556 was spent by third-party groups in support of then District 5 candidate London Breed. Breed also benefited from the $104,016 spent against her top contender, which included $49,000 from Conway. But that paled in comparison to the huge dollars that flooded the District 1 race as incumbent Supervisor Eric Mar squared off against challenger David Lee. The total third party money spent against Mar totaled a whopping $923,962.

Public financing can help candidates combat a flood of third party spending. In the District 3 race, both candidates are taking public funds. Their initial spending limits are $250,000. But either candidate can spend more commensurate to the third-party spending totals spent against them. If they raise more to spend more beyond the initial cap, they also receive more public matching funds.

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