The plutocrat

Tech mogul Ron Conway is trying to buy San Francisco politics and sell his pro-business agenda

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Ron Conway has spent more in the last two elections than any other San Franciscan.

news@sfbg.com

On October 6, 2010, longtime civic leader and financier Warren Hellman stood before the Bay Area Council's annual dinner and announced the presence of a special guest. MC Hammer stepped forward to introduce the man of honor. His name was Ron Conway, and, according to the SF Business Times, he'd moved to San Francisco from Atherton six years earlier.

But now, he was acting like he owned  the place.

Former Mayor Art Agnos was in the audience, and he remembers the moment well. "This guy stood up and said that we have to take the city back from the progressives," Agnos told us. "I barely knew who he was. I've been in San Francisco since 1966, and here he comes telling us what to do."

Agnos minces no words about the man who is, by some accounts, now the most powerful unelected person at City Hall despite suddenly bursting onto the political scene just last year, shortly after that event. "He's come to San Francisco using his multimillions of dollars to buy systems and people to effectively mandate his views, to project his way of doing things onto liberal San Francisco."

So who is this guy? He's one of Mayor Ed Lee's closest advisors. He's poured more than $1 million into the last two local elections — dropping at least $625,000 in this year's election cycle (journalist Larry Bush reports this year's total at about $800,000). That includes $275,000 to help pass Prop. E, which lowered the business tax rates for technology companies in which he's invested, and $69,000 to help oust Sup. Christina Olague for defying Lee and Conway on a couple of key votes.

Conway is one of the Silicon Valley's preeminent angel investors since just after the dawn of the Internet, parlaying his early successes bankrolling Google, PayPal, and Facebook into investments with a vast array of SF-based tech companies, including Twitter, Digg, Airbnb, and Zynga.

His net worth is widely reported at $1.5 billion, but he disputes that he's a billionaire. Business Insider obtained a leaked list of his investments in 2011 and it included 228 companies. A report on his investments that appeared on Crunchbase.com quantified many of Conway's investments, including $10 million each in Square (the SF-based startup by a Twitter founder), Stitcher, Yammer, and Pinterest; $20 million in AddThis, $8.3 million in AirTime; $8 million in BuzzFeed; and $5 million each in Twitter, Friend.ly, and Magnetic, among more than 200 tech investments.

It's difficult to discern his precise financial worth — but nobody doubts that it's more than enough to funnel vast amounts into local politics, as Conway has been more willing to do than anyone in these last couple years.

There have always been wealthy people in San Francisco who have tried to throw their money — and political weight — around. Walter Shorenstein, the developer and commercial landlord, dominated Democratic Party politics for decades. Warren Hellman and Gap founder Don Fisher put money and time into political initiatives. The list goes on.

But most of them were fairly homegrown — they'd been active in the city for many years before they became political players. And they tended to make their mark in major charitable and philanthropic efforts as well as partisan politics.

Conway, while he does give money to charities like Ronald McDonald House, is a different type, part of the impatient tech generation that's right-wing on economic policy (Conway was a registered Republican before switching to decline-to-state as he became political active here in early 2011), wants things done his way, and sees no need for community accountability.

"Warren Hellman was interested in children's issues, public education, he wanted to invest in building community," Sup. John Avalos told us. "Conway is all about the bottom line of his industry, and nothing more."

Comments

Keeps rent artificially low. It does not keep up with inflation, etc. LL can only pass on certain percentages of tax increases etc.

Posted by D. Native on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

They perform works and apply pass-thru rent increases

They defer maintenance making the unit less desirable

They Ellis or OMI

They rent short-term, corporate, to foreigners or as BnB's

They leave the unit vacant or sell as a TIC

There is simply no incentive to rent out a RC to along-term SF resident as you can never get rid of them. That is worse than just the rent controls.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 8:07 am

"... but his ability to live in a city that realistically he could never afford..."

What you're saying is that poor people can't live in San Francisco. No world-class city can remain world-class without a mix that includes every socioeconomic class.

Posted by Hortencia on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

You don't see a lot of socioeconomic diversity there.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

You'll could enjoy nice high walls surrounding your mansion or villa. And never have to look at a POC in the face for the rest of your miserable life.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

I already live and own a home in San Francisco - something you feel entitled to without putting in the work to actually, you know, HAVE the same thing.

The world these days is filled with a lot of entitlement from those who just don't seem to want to put out the effort but want all the rewards. It's quite sad really.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

isn't white (or POC, to use that odious acronym) then you're the one making the racist assumptions, not Lucretia.

Not everyone can afford to live in the world's favorite city.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

as one coming from a place of anger and jealousy and overall - frustration at their lot in life - it's far easier to understand why they feel the way they do. They're not generally bad people, just people who've never lived up to their potential or to their own expectations and now they're angry and want someone to blame. I have sympathy for them, not anger.

We live in a society where the extremes of wealth, populated by awful, vulgar shows like those "Real Housewives" monstrosities, have clued many people, previously happy with having very little, into the fact that wealth and prestige seem to be keys to happiness. But wealth and prestige are only keys to happiness when one knows how to use them as such. However the simple minds of many commenters here don't understand that. They see both as usually ill-gotten and thus ripe for their own requisition through the political system. They only get angrier when they slowly come to understand that will never happen - and thus this terrible vicious cycle begins again.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

I disagree about Monte Carlo. It's a specialized enclave for the super-rich, something to which is neither realistic nor desirable for San Francisco to aspire. We need housing and other civic policies that encourage socioeconomic diversity, including a balanced menu of housing options--renter- and owner-occupied.

Posted by Hortencia on Dec. 02, 2012 @ 9:35 am

I don't see why it should be considered that different from SF.

There are lots of large cities I cannot afford, like London, Paris, Tokyo etc. So what?

And it only matters that the Bay Area is diverse, not that every zip code within it is. There are many pockets of affluence in the Bay Area like Mill Valley, Los Altos and Irinda. and also poor places like Oakland and Richmond and Vallejo.

Again, so what?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 02, 2012 @ 10:41 am

such as Oakland. The fiscally disadvantaged are happier there.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

What makes you so confident that you will always be able to afford to live in San Francisco? Are the mortgages on your houses paid off? Do you have secure employment? Are your savings substantial enough to provide you the ability to live in San Francisco all your life in case you get laid off, or your investments take a bath when the market crashes?

Posted by Anonymous and Lucretia: on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

I would move - not demand someone else, or an entity like the government, make it possible for me to stay. I was not raised to believe it was my "right" to reside anywhere other than property I may own and then only if I could afford it.

Why someone would want to stay somewhere they clearly were unable to handle from a fiduciary perspective is quite perplexing. Wouldn't that be terribly stressful and dreary when there are, as another commenter pointed out, much cheaper places to live only a 10 or 20 minute BART ride away? One can always come into the city anytime they want from Oakland, Dublin or even Daly City and have a lot more money to spend when doing so rather than living in some ratty apartment they struggle every month to pay for while scraping to buy a crust of bread and pay the electricity bill.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 11:07 pm

happening sooner than you think, especially the way Anonymous and you are cheerleaders for the market. Keep supporting it and you will ultimately become one of its victims. You are not immune, you know. See ya' in Oakland.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

than compromise about living in SF. But I am willing to pay to live in SF and don't ask others to subsidize that lifestyle decision. And I've organized my education, career and life so that I can afford to won in SF.

It's possible that eventually SF will just be an enclave for the wealthy, but so what? There will still be service workers living around the Bay, just like in most other wealthy cities. And we'll have less crime and better services too.

The SFBG can always relocate to Oakland as well . .

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 7:24 am

to afford to live in San Francisco? Exactly how is the organization of your education, career, and life immune to the negative traits in capitalism?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 7:38 am

I have managed my career, investments and mortgage in such a way that if I suffer a near total loss, so will almost everyone else and so, at least in relative terms, my situation won't change.

I've survived three stock market crashes and a massive real estate crisis, and am still doing well, my net worth being at an all-time high.

I'm not afraid of the markets or the chinese. I am afraid of my own government and their endless zeal for punitive and confiscatory taxation.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 8:34 am

Are you a Professional Troll? It certainly looks that way. And I can't imagine that they pay you very well either.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

Leaving aside the barely-disguised racist dog-whistle inherent in your comment, you clearly haven't explored Oakland.

Posted by Hortencia on Dec. 02, 2012 @ 9:37 am

Pablo owns a home in SF. Congratulations to him.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 9:20 am

One thing you didn't mention in Conway's effort to defeat Olague is that his wife Gayle has been a pioneer in combatting domestic violence since the early '80s, long before most people had even heard the term.

Posted by Hortencia on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 9:01 am

While the progressive establishment was in total disarray over their backing of Mirkarimi and Julian Davis.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 11:07 am

Slightly more than a 1/3 (37.7%) of SF residents were actually born in California (to say nothing of whether they were born/raised in SF itself).

25.2% of SF residents were born in a different U.S. state and more than a third of city residents (35.6%) were born outside the United States.

Get over yourself and your whining about how recently he arrived. The only difference between Conway and anyone else who just got here is that he has gobs of money to throw around.

Posted by LMAO! on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 10:30 am

Conway was born and spent his childhood in San Francisco and then he moved back as an adult. So let's see he's a SF native who has lived in SF for a total of 21 years and counting.

How many of your readers can say that about themselves?

Posted by Ironic on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 10:35 am

Conway grew up in the Lake Merced area and, among other things, has been a major benefactor of Project Homeless Connect, which helps non profits to coordinate their efforts to support SF's Homeless Population.

Again, if reading Tim Redmond's propaganda piqued your interest in Conway it is worth taking a few seconds to Google Conway and find pieces written by honest journalists. Tim's stuff is good for laughs but that's about all.

And, when you are Googling Conway you are taking advantage of a free service that Conway helped to create.

Posted by Troll on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 10:58 am

Conway was the first to donate to the sit/lie campaign. In total, he has given $35,000, the largest contribution from any donor.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

Enabling the homeless to sit and sleep wherever they want is the epitome of the tolerance of intolerance. Enabling bad behaviors is the antithesis of what San Francisco should be doing - but its what our entire Non Profit Inc sector is built around - the pimping of poverty.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

But the sit-lie law was and is an idiotic sop to Haight Street storeowners that's rarely enforced.

Posted by Hortencia on Dec. 02, 2012 @ 9:38 am

Conway has financially supported and been a long time board member on an organization that coordinates services to assist the homeless.

Not everyone agrees that sitting and lying in the street is the ideal situation for our homeless population.

Posted by Troll on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

He can win public relations points by donating crumbs to an organization that supposedly assists the homeless, while pursuing policies that inflate real estate values leading to more homelessness and supporting laws to criminalize poverty.

A real neoliberal humanitarian. Maybe the city will name a shelter or a new wing of the county jail after him so his memory will remain for future generations of homeless and the criminalized poor.

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

They are vagrants from elsewhere who come to SF to enjoy our generous welfare benefits.

Building new homes never made anyone homeless but the NIMBY's here want to stop such developments.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 9:22 am

You make it seem like Ron Conway made his money by cheating the public, how many of you own a iPhone, computer or even use those apps. We have buying into tech for 50 some odd years, tech won't fix the problem, it will alert or send you to the write person to fix the problem. Or put out a red flag for service.

As for Conway and Co. they have made money but investing into young tech companies, but the way not all become wealthy or even make it. I grew up in Mountain View down in the south bay, where the list of companies that just didn't make it, long.

I don't use Twitter or Facebook, did use Geo Cities, and some long forgotten website that was a social network. Only if I had the money and a vague idea, I would be out there getting people to use my site and making money.

If you want to open a business, start a company, invest but don't cheat. More power to you.

Posted by Garrett on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 11:23 am

from the UK which shows how the tax take declined significantly when the UK raised it's top income tax rate from 40% to 50%:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9707029/Two-thirds-of-millionai...

The rich, quite simply, just left. Did someone say "Laffer"?

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

Their top tax rate was 40%? We should totally have ours at 40%!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

"Their top tax rate was 40%? We should totally have ours at 40%!"

Britain doesn't have state income taxes.

If the Bush tax cut expires, the maximum Federal tax rate is 39.6%.
New maximum California income tax rate is 13.3%

Total 52.9%.

You're welcome.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

Federal return. So it is 39.6% plus (60.4% of 13.3%), i.e. about 48%

So still less than 50% but only just.

And since then, UK highest rate is now 50%. Oh, and 20% VAT on top - you want that here?

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

"Your 52.9% is wrong because the State tax is deductible on your
Federal return. So it is 39.6% plus (60.4% of 13.3%), i.e. about 48%"

Incorrect - most people in that tax bracket are subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which limits your deductions for things like state income tax payments. That's why Nancy Pelosi is always screaming about the AMT - it is effectively a extra Federal tax on blue states with high state income taxes.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

it's still not possible to pay more than 50% income tax at the margin, although it is getting close.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

Interesting that, on the whole, the rich support Republicans, the so-called "patriotic" party. But when their own ox is gored, they leave the country, or at least move their money. So much for patriotism.

Posted by Hortencia on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

While the rich can afford to be Democrats. Just look where the red and blue states are.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 8:08 am

I don't think anyone said "Laffer" but they are laughing. Believe what you want, but it has dawned on me that riches in modern society don't accrue to them who are most intelligent and productive nearly as much as we are led to believe, but rather to them who believe themselves most deserving; just like the way choice gobbets of meat were distributed around the camp fire during prehistoric times.

That explains all the dimwitted comments from those who purport to be rich.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 9:29 am

They may be smarter than average but probably not smarter than, say, a university professor.

Trump isn't that smart but he really, really wants success and so finds it.

Nonetheless, our capitalist system is pretty efficient at rewarding the right combination of smarts, desire, hard work and commitment.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 10:00 am

So, Lilli, do you have some evidence to disprove the numbers the Telegraph article, or are you just writing meaningless incentive?

Both in Maryland and Oregon "millionaires taxes" caused massive drops of income tax filers in the maximum tax brackets.

This happens for three reasons:

1) People move out of the high-tax jurisdiction.
2) People work less. (I know that Lilli thinks that all rich people are just living off of investments, but there are lots of high income people in San Francisco who could shift from working 60 to 50 hours a week, and gain ten hours of leisure, if they are making less from that marginal ten hours of work every week).
3) It becomes more economic to pursue tax-avoidance strategies, the higher the marginal tax rate.

But don't worry, Lilli, your policies are working!

In California in 2000, there were 12.2 million private sector jobs in California.
Today, 11.9 million.

Onwards to the future, Comrades!

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

no income tax, and then do all your shopping in OR.

Best of both worlds!

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

"Oregon has no sales tax but you can live in WA State and pay
no income tax, and then do all your shopping in OR.

Best of both worlds!"

That trick only works if you don't work in Oregon - you work in Oregon, you pay Oregon income tax, whatever state you happen to live in. Same in California - you earn income in California, you pay California income taxes.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

relocating their businesses there, and the workers simply move their home across the Columbia while still doing their shopping in OR.

Or of course use an accomodation address in whichever is the more favorable State.

High taxes always fail because folks are always smarter than the tax inspectors. That's why so many self-employed CA contractors get paid thru a Nevada corporation.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

Obviously the Telegraph's suggestion that all the "millionaires" -- which by the way they classify as anyone *taking* *in* more than a million pounds each year -- who dropped off of the rolls from year to year left Britain is stupid as you yourself have pointed out.

The state of the economy may have also played a large part in the result, but I don't need that to say the story is bunk. Simply changes in tax avoidance and other financial strategy may have accounted for the number, but the Telegraph painted what was likely a small aspect of the change as the sum total of it. Silly stuff for those who are entertained by such.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

Who needs evidence when you have "logic"!

Evil, blood-soaked, capitalist, rich people would never consider tax consequences when deciding where to live or how much to work!

You can raise taxes on rich people indefinitely, without consequence!

Millionaires are idiots!

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

can do that from anywhere. Many simply relocated to Geneva, an hour or so's flight away. While multi-nationals can move management around to optimize their tax rate.

Of course, not EVERY millionaire will relocate, but a significant number will, just like many of CA's millionaires, find it every easy to move their PPR to Nevada.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

they are the biggest tax cheats going. let's help them pack

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

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