The plutocrat - Page 2

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

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

Avalos complained that Conway (like many in his industry) disdains openness and public access. "It's all behind the scenes," he told us. "That's how he likes to operate."

In each of the last three years, Conway has doubled or quadrupled his political contributions. He's the first big spender to operate in the city in the post-Citizens United era, when one rich person can play an outsized role in politics, creating independent expenditure committees that can throw around unlimited amounts of money.

And right now, a lot of City Hall insiders say, this unelected, unappointed operative is helping undermine progressive policy and send city politics in a very different direction.



Conway declined to be interviewed for this piece, with his press spokesperson — Aaron McLear, who served as press secretary to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other prominent Republicans — offering up a canned statement for print. So what little we can glean of Conway's beginnings come from public records, other media reports, and Gary Rivlin's insightful book The Godfather of Silicon Valley: Ron Conway and the Fall of the Dot-coms.

Ronald Crawford Conway was born in San Francisco on March 09, 1951. The middle child in an Irish-Catholic family of 12 siblings, Conway also has a twin brother, Rick. Ron Conway went to St. Stephen's boys high school in San Francisco until he was 15, when the family moved to the wealthy nearby enclave of Atherton.

Conway's father was a top exec at the then-Oakland-based American President Lines, which today is a major shipping company for Walmart's goods. The elder Conway cashed out for what Conway described as "a couple million dollars," according to Rivlin.

Driving through Atherton, you get a feel for how starkly different it is from San Francisco. Stone walls 10-feet high surround most homes, many that look like Spanish villas or small castles to the eye of a San Francisco native. The Conways home there was valued at $18 million in 2001.

It was in wealthy, conservative Atherton that Conway found his political voice, according to Rivlin's book. "It was in high school where I became more outspoken," Conway told him. While studying political science at San Jose State, Conway served on the Atherton City Council starting at the age of 21, mostly to "counteract the noisy student protesters at nearby Stanford," Rivlin wrote.

While his father had been active in San Francisco politics as a Democrat, Conway got involved in local Republican politics as a teenager and worked on Nixon's 1968 campaign for president, telling Rivlin that he and his twin brother were "dyed-in-the-wool conservatives."

That ideology apparently stayed with Conway, who records show gave $50,000 to George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign and $90,000 to Schwarzenegger, his "recover team," and the California Republican Party in 2005-06.

But, Rivlin noted, "he was hardly someone you would describe as politically engaged." On the issues, Conway told him, "I could care less." He cares about government, Rivlin noted, "to the extent it has an impact on the business climate."



Conway worked for National Semiconductor in the 1970s and cofounded Altos Computer Systems in 1979, selling it in the early '90s and using its proceeds to become an "angel investor," providing early capital in exchange for an ownership stake, in small tech startups in the early years of the Internet.

To Conway, being an angel seemed to be about helping the rich get richer by pumping up the first big tech bubble. His Angel Investors, LP consisted of Conway and a number of already wealthy Internet and film luminaries, from hardcore investors and disinterested tinkerers, each contributing to the pot that was controlled by Conway.


those jobs vanish permanently when the hedgies flip the popstand. You might hate the rich, or perhaps just find them "boring" like Tim. But you need them more than they need you.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

to get that way without the revenue generated from people who actually do something productive; you know build something, grow something, assemble something. In other words, workers.

Without workers, the rich would have no source of income. Not to mention the rich depend on the workers of the state and its police power to protect them from the poor. Plus the bailouts from the public treasury when the speculative bubbles burst and their pyramid schemes implode. It's the same concept in every country.

So they need us more than we need them. Your economic paternalism has blinded you.

Feel free to disregard my beliefs for I may not have enough fiscal power and don't view homeless people as vagrants or renters as freeloaders.

I don't hate the rich, but I have contempt for those that make their livings off the backs of someone else's labor.

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

You should just own up to it.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

the successful and the wealthy are somehow dependent on him. But of course they don't even know he exists.

His idea that the rich produce nothing sounds like some leftover Marxists theory.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 7:20 am

bottom of the pile, but one never knows when catastrophe might strike, so I take nothing for granted.

However, I have no need to brag about my net worth to strangers on a comment board.

I believe that most people find the practice of bragging about one's wealth to be detestable. Unfortunately, that's the direction that San Francisco has headed in my almost 25 years here.

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

bottom of the pile, but one never knows when catastrophe might strike, so I take nothing for granted.

However, I have no need to brag about my net worth to strangers on a comment board.

I believe that most people find the practice of bragging about one's wealth to be detestable. Unfortunately, that's the direction that San Francisco has headed in my almost 25 years here.

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

hide one's light under a bushel either.

But if you have emans then you can protect yourself against adversity in various ways, so I do not fear poverty.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 02, 2012 @ 10:42 am

about one's own wealth is akin to canine behavior. Society would be much more sustainable and sane if plaudits would accrue most to them with the greatest non-monetary attainments.

For instance, remember that once upon a time doctors were lowly paid and highly respected.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 02, 2012 @ 11:08 am

thought he could withstand any economic downturn and he gave his answers which, not surprisingly, were predicated on having an above-average net worth and a certain level of financial sophistication.

Given how the US worships at the alter of financial success, it was hardly an outlandish position to take.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 02, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

Eddie sounds like a very sensible person to me. I wish that we had more intelligent commenters like him, instead of the usual cast of bottom feeders like yourself (sigh)

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

for the kind words.

Posted by Thanks on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

for the kind words. (I messed up the first comment.)

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

It's factual. If someone calls me a lesbian that's not an insult - it's a fact. Why is "Marxist" considered any different? Eddie is a follower of Marxist doctrine - so what?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 10:41 pm

Like lilli and marcos this Snapples person lives for responses to their provacative, often repetitive posts. Give a response - any response - and the counter-responses will be fast and furious. These are people without a lot of family or friend commitments so any attention they can get - even negative atention - helps bolster their damaged psyche and fills up huge voids of free time in their lives.

Snap Dragon is near the top of the economic heap yet can't control the glee to come onto this board and poke at the eyes of one of the few progressive news outlets in the city. Troll avoidance 101 says NEVER respond to the provocateurs. Some are especially persistent for attention. Although their posts may spike for a period after they stop getting nasty replies, over time they will will get bored and look elsewhere for the desperate attention they need.

Eddie has recently joined the fray the past couple of weeks with some strong posts, and hopefullly Greg is still around with his always strong posts. With a few more commenters of that caliber who don't bring a lot of personal baggage to the board and this place could be a very positive environment where meaningful, thoughtful conversations about progressive issues and politics can occur.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 01, 2012 @ 8:34 am

And of course, while you may have found a hook on which to hang your false ad hominem against marcos here, giving color to your bland lies by your contradictory support for Eddie and Greg, you can't cite a post by either of us which supports your assessment.

Hannibal Lecter studies and expounds on the nature of the depraved mind.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 01, 2012 @ 8:59 am

The rise of tech and future-oriented industries throughout Silicon Valley and the Bay Area have led to a rise in votes for Democrats. That was emphatically NOT the way it was 30 years ago when Ronald Reagan won 7 out of 9 Bay Area counties.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

The Republicans hadn't been going after the hardcore stupid back then and the Democrats hadn't gotten nearly so good at sucking up to corporate power while subverting the interests of labor.

Any comparison of how counties voted then and now is worse than useless.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 3:58 pm


But that's what one expects from useless Troll II who is now back to using the name, "Lucretia Snapples."

And where is she typing from? Toledo or Topeka?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

What Lucretia wants, Lucretia gets.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

are you an adolescent, by any chance?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

And that's all that matters.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

And that's all that matters.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

when i was a young boy my mother took me to an anti-war rally. we listened to a few speakers and after one too many called the president a "motherf***er" and said he should "go f*** himself," my mother took my hand and we returned home, and my mother never took me to another anti-war rally again. i thought of this last year when i went to market street to join an occupy march in solidatary with egypt. throughout the duration of the walk, i found myself behind a few men, completely naked. there was something about seeing these bare asses right in front of me that took my mind off all the imprisoned civilians in egypt's jails. i don't know what it is about san francisco progressives. i want to reclaim the word "progressive" because i consider myself one. i want to say to supervisors avalos and campos and you sfbg, "are you kidding me? are you cia plants trying to destroy the progressive movement in the city?" are you trying to drive people to registering republican?" i suppose i was supposed to loathe ron conway after reading this article, but instead i'm thinking... someone born in the city, raised in the bay area... who understands san francisco.... yes, i like this guy. thank you for printing this article. i feel there is hope for san francisco yet. i grew up reading the sfbg and i find it sad this newspaper has become so out of touch with the city it is supposed to represent.

Posted by Douglas on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

If you support corporate giveaways to people like Conway, there's nothing remotely progressive about you. But feel free to pretend to your heart's content. Just don't delude yourself that you're fooling anyone.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

Let's send Douglas to the Gulag!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 9:16 am

Is there no copy editing here? Or at least someone else to read it before it gets published? Examples from page four of the article:

"Emboldened by Lee's decisive victory and the mayor's apparently willingness to move..."

"And that was just the beginning of spendy year for Conway..."

"... and the reinstating Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi."

Just on one page alone. There are at least this many errors on every page. It's not just typos but weird tense shifts and missing parts of sentences.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 1:27 am

For the most part, they're just minor omissions. Do you have anything contribute to this discussion other than your prissy, pedantic nitpicking?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

Great article, thank you for this. So many people in this city are aware that there are negative, right wing forces changing things for the betterment of the wealthy elite but how and why? Or better yet, who? It's hard to fight when you don't know who you're fighting with. Politicians that should be on your side, or whom you thought were on your side, i.e. Weiner, Lee are making calls that don't make a whole lot of sense in this most liberal of cities. And whether the predatory landlords or the snarky commenters on here want to admit it, this is still a very liberal city.
Yet the leaders of this city seem to have an alternate vision for the future. This article puts decisions being made at the top into perspective. You have shined a light into a dark room and the government of San Francisco has become almost as bad the federal government was/ is. Instead of the Koch brothers or Karl Rove we have Conway, instead of Cheney we have Weiner, Bush would be Lee, and Rose Pak would have to be Pat Robertson.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

I'm lost here. I've only vaguely heard of Ron Conway. He sounds like a jerk; the real "Rontourage" is more like him, Ron Cowan and Ron Burkle, all friends of Willie. But leave that aside for a minute.

Sounds more to me like someone's not paying appropriate tribute to Art Agnos and he's having a hissy fit. Boo-hoo. What's wrong with a business owner/investor donating in his interest, in businesses the City that generate skilled, high-value jobs it wants to attract at a time when city budgets are being shredded?

Your paper held its nose and supported Prop. E. You liked a gross receipts tax when Chevron, PG&E and the Gap opposed it. Now you're so tied in contortions trying to build a case against Conway that you're defending banks and realtors against a tech onslaught? Please.

It makes sense to tax actual profits rather than startup jobs. It makes sense to pursue social media and programming jobs versus insurance agents and realtors on commission. It makes sense to leverage tech knowledge and expertise to improve government services- even Salt Lake City and Omaha know that; I'm sure there's room on an upgraded Health Department website (accessible at any branch library) for a list of free clinics. Next imaginary problem?

And it makes sense to bypass the Chamber in making political donations; they're dinsoaurs who don't like small business, don't like new business and define themselves by their enemies. Let's see, who else can we think of who fits that description?

Posted by bloom on Dec. 01, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

I am absolutely loving the coverage of Ron Conway by the SFBG. This isn't the first article either. He sounds rather awesome.

We have to admit that SF/LA & CA are all ungovernable. The reason is the LEFT WING is absolutely insatiable about raising our taxes on the middle and poor classes while nothing much happens to the wealthy. A piffle happens to them.

Our sales tax in CA is going to go up. Who will suffer? Why the middle and poor classes of course. Small biz is being penalized. Business property tax is up (and is theft as far as I'm concerned!! Why keep paying taxes on your biz property like CHAIRS for instance).

This has just begun.

So many are so sick of this despite the mandate by the voters for higher taxes.

If one is righty/indie/rightygreenie/pro small biz, please join California State Politics on facebook. There are many of us from N CA on it.

Posted by Jane Smith on Dec. 02, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

is our own little sheldon adelson....creepy

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2012 @ 5:04 pm