Ron Conway: Buying Our Democracy
and Squashing San Franciscans Like Ants

Written by Guest Contributor. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on October 13, 2011 with 8 Comments

Angel investor Ron Conway. Photo courtesy

By David Waggoner

October 13, 2011

“You fucking fuck, I’ll squash you like an ant,” said angel investor Ron Conway to a tech entrepreneur who’d fallen out of Conway’s favor. (see “The Scariest Man in Silicon Valley,” Jay Yarow, Business Insider, May 12, 2011).

Known as the Godfather of Silicon Valley, Conway has been the playground bully for many years in the tech world.  He was an early investor in Google, Facebook, Twitter and Paypal.  He parties with Henry Kissinger and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  His typical advice to CEOs: fire people.

Conway achieved notoriety in San Francisco last year when he told a group of business folk: “We must take our city back… This is about survival.”

Last year, Conway gave $35 thousand to the Yes on L campaign to criminalize sitting on a sidewalk.  This year, Ethics Commission filings show that Conway has already spent $218,500 in San Francisco to support various conservative causes.  A San Francisco Bay Guardian article notes Conway has given more than $320 thousand to Republicans since 1999.  Like the Gettys, Warren Hellman, Dede Wilsey, Michael Moritz and the late Donald Fisher, Conway appears to be the latest member of the “1%” class who is spending exorbitant gobs of cash on a San Francisco election.  All this is very interesting, of course, given that Conway is a Palo Alto venture capitalist.

Apparently, Conway believes poor and middle-class people have stolen the city from the super rich.  He’s on a war path to take the city back!

Conway’s first recruit? Interim Mayor Ed Lee. Conway, a Twitter investor, has contributed $151,000 to support Mayor Lee’s campaign. Mayor Lee will have to look long and hard to find the right thank you gift for Conway. Or is it the other way around? After all, Twitter’s sweetheart tax deal – worth $30 million – was championed by Mayor Lee. As Twitter has very carefully avoided exceeding 500 shareholders, which would trigger public financial disclosures, we may never know the exact return on Conway’s $151,000 investment. What is certain is that Conway and other Twitter shareholders will reap a taxpayer funded windfall and new, highly paid Twitter employees will displace people who do not have stock options.

Conway’s $500 donations to Dennis Herrera and Michela Alioto-Pier seem like an insult in comparison to the six-figure sum given to Lee. Fellow venture capitalist Joanna Rees must really feel left out. Not feeling left out or insulted, however, is Supervisor Scott Wiener. Wiener’s unprecedented measure to allow the Board of Supervisors to veto the will of the voters – Prop E – has received $10,000 from Conway. Why would the Godfather of Silicon Valley want to veto laws duly passed by a vote of the people? Taking the city back from whom – the people?

Conway has also apparently taken an interest in law enforcement in San Francisco. Already mentioned was Conway’s $35,000 to harass homeless people (“It’s about survival,” Conway says). This year, in the DA race, District Attorney George Gascon got a mere $500 from Conway, while former Police Officer’s Association President Chris Cunnie got a whopping $25,000 for his race for sheriff. I’m no venture capitalist, but I will venture that 25K amounts to a “you fucking fuck, I’ll squash you like an ant” postcard to the progressive candidate, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. Again, why does the Godfather care about who becomes the next sheriff of San Francisco?

In a battle of the billionaires, we have Conway (welterweight, coming in at $25,000) and Warren Hellman (in the heavyweight class, at $100,000 contributed to date – super heavyweight, if you count the $200,000 he spent on an actuary) lined up behind Prop C, while Michael Moritz is bankrolling Prop D (super heavyweight, at $250,000). Both Prop C and D go after public employee pensions, the former championed by the Mayor, the latter by Public Defender Jeff Adachi. The billionaires have spent a collective $575,000 to ensure that city janitors have less to live on when they retire. Prop C has the remarkable support of the San Francisco Labor Council, the entire Board of Supervisors, Mayor Lee, and the police and fire unions. In a shocking twist, there is no measure on the ballot to ask billionaires to contribute more towards anything.

Meanwhile, in a move reminiscent of Hank Williams, Jr.’s comparison of Obama to Hitler, a recent television ad paid for by Hellman and others compares Adachi to Republican Tea Partier Scott Walker. Political insiders are debating this ad as if it deserved serious consideration. Local progressives argue about Adachi and Avalos, moderates argue about Herrera and Yee, conservatives about Hall and Alioto-Pier. As San Franciscans debate public employee benefits, the influence of nonprofits and which candidate is more progressive, moderate or conservative, the Hellmans, Conways and Moritzs – the 1% class – must be clinking their champagne glasses in toast to their fabulous success: another election bought and paid for, another cycle of smoke and mirrors.

David Waggoner, a renter in San Francisco for over nine years, is an attorney at the Alameda County Homeless Action Center and former president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.