Political disclosure bill unsubtly takes aim at Ron Conway

Aaron Peskin At the press conference. Photo by Joe Eskenazi

City lefties are in their happy place: They get to target a gauche tech billionaire in a good-government campaign.


Supervisor Aaron Peskin was this morning flanked by a minivan’s worth of his legislative colleagues, as well as the District Attorney, the inveterate good-government activist, and a front-running mayoral candidate.

They were gathered in a City Hall antechamber to talk about the man who was not there, the man behind the curtain — the favorite human allegory of all that ails San Francisco for Peskin and his ideological compadres: Ron Conway.

“This is not about Ron Conway or any other investors with handfuls of cash to float around,” Peskin at one point said during a press conference that was very much about Conway, et al., and announcing legislation very much aimed at Conway, et al.

“Mr. Conway is a symptom of a much larger problem in San Francisco and this country and that is the Wall Street mentality of routinely putting profits over people.”

Peskin and his bevy of legislative co-sponsors were announcing today’s introduction of an ordinance meant to curtail the unlimited spigot of cash Conway and others have dumped into city elections — the massive, hard-to-track work of political action committees (PACs) and independent expenditure campaigns (IEs) enabled by the Citizens United Supreme Court case.

“If I could ban these sorts of donations, I would,” assured Peskin. But he can’t, thanks to “a right-wing Supreme Court that has fallen under the influence of the Koch brothers.”

Instead, if he and others have their way, major donors will have to disclose not only who they are but what investment holdings they possess — which may, in Peskin’s words, “connect the dots” for voters wondering why money flows in the patterns it does.

Specifically, this legislation would — retroactively to Jan. 1 — require any individual or entity who makes a donation of $10,000 or more to a committee to disclose this within 24 hours, and also disclose investments or leadership ties with city business entities.

During this gathering that wasn’t about Ron Conway, Peskin continually dropped examples that seemed strangely germane to Ron Conway.

“This is retroactive to Jan. 1, so I’m putting anyone on notice who’ll dump millions into supervisors races or mayors races: You’ll have to tell everyone whether you’ve invested in Airbnb or Lyft. … You’ll have to tell everyone what your investments are.”

Peskin all but dared London Breed — the board president and, whether she likes it or not, Conway’s preferred mayoral candidate — to not fast-track his bill.

Breed, no fool, agreed to fast-track the bill. Mayor Mark Farrell has, purportedly, known of this legislation for some time, and supported its creation. Peskin told the gathered crowd that the mayor had pledged to sign it, and he hoped it would pass with a supermajority. At the soonest, this could be the law of the land before April.

That would be to the liking of Mark Leno, who bemoaned the pro-Breed PAC currently demonizing him (Leno, notably, blamed the “extraordinary amount of new money” in San Francisco for clouding voters’ ability to make decisions). Breed, who was invited to today’s press conference, did not attend. Fellow candidate Jane Kim, a co-sponsor of the legislation, also did not attend, though she blamed a scheduling mishap.

For any candidate hoping an anonymously funded PAC would shoot the wings off their opponents, or any operative looking to do just that, today was a frustrating day. The pro-Breed PAC that has used undisclosed donations to blast Leno, Peskin, Farrell, Jeff Sheehy and others described the pending legislation as an effort to “silence women under the guise of campaign ethics legislation” and a “phony gimmick” meant to “intimidate women from exercising their constitutional right to support London Breed for Mayor.”

That may be, but considering the retroactive portion of the legislation, this group would have to do all of the above while disclosing their large donors. And quickly.

Politically, keeping Conway’s name in the news — and converting him into a rich, white albatross around Breed’s neck — has emerged as an obvious campaign tactic. And sometimes it seems Conway can’t help himself with regard to staying out of the news.

When reports hit the papers that Conway was a prior investor in Farrell’s venture capital firm, it was pretty clear that this information wasn’t disclosed by the secretive, private firm — leaving relatively little doubt where it originated.

Similarly, when a memo to investors in Farrell’s firm touting the “intangible benefits” of eventually having a former mayor on staff was leaked to multiple media outlets, blame was, again, assigned to a certain investor in that firm.

“This is proof that Ron Conway and his associates are throwing their weight around,” Peskin told the Chronicle.  All of this spurred one frustrated political onlooker to note that the best way to be a Koch brother operating out of view is to stay out of view.

Asked about his bill’s chances of escaping legal scrutiny, Peskin, once more, took aim at Conway. “I would not be surprised,” he said, “if some billionaire took us to court.”

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7 Comments

  1. Judith Berkowitz

    All good and well, but are there consequences and penalties for not reporting these $10,000 donations to the PACs and IEs, and if so what are they?

    And what about the donation of $9,999?
    And the very common practice of donating say $5000, and having partners, contractors, family members give the remaining amount, later reimbursing each for his monetary depletion.

  2. Charles Marsteller

    When Mr.Conway pressed the SF Board of Sups to leave Acting Mayor Breed in place, it was a wake up call to a very BROAD spectrum of the Board that this was the opportunity to free itself from pay to play and essentially, to end the Brown-Kawa controls over City development. The Board supports good development, so the games that have been and are being played finally overplayed and our Electeds are now striving for a far more normalized environment where land use decisions are made on the merits–at least to a greater degree, and without extortion.

    At this point, I see real progress with City Ethics with reform at Planning to come, and I think that while not perfect, we will see true reform. I have been pushing for this day, along with people like Judy Berkowitz, for 22 years.

  3. Gabe Zitrin

    “Politically, keeping Conway’s name in the news — and converting him into a rich, white albatross around Breed’s neck — has emerged as an obvious campaign tactic.”

    Tell me about it. It’s gotten so predictable now that I have to wonder whether there are any thought-out, policy-based arguments against Breed. All I ever read from her opponents is “RonConwayRonConwayRonConway,” the way the far right talks about George Soros.

    • Albert K

      Hello! Please check out Jane Kim who is running on a platform of cleaning up the city (literally!), affordable housing, universal childcare, and tackling homelessness. After visiting Breed’s website I was unable to find out what her campaign promises were, but her recent promotion of tasering is very troubling…

  4. Is it true that Nicole Derse is fronting for some of this dark money. Just asking.

  5. George W. Smith

    “Lefties”????

    These are wishy-washy liberals who have consistently sold out ordinary citizens!

  6. Gabe Zitrin

    By all means, check out all the candidates, their websites, their platforms. But it’s not hard to find Breed’s positions. Her accomplishments page at at http://www.londonformayor.com/accomplishments/, her post on affordability at https://medium.com/@LondonBreed/an-affordable-city-for-all-of-us-3ba5bb17c720, her public safety plan at https://medium.com/@LondonBreed/making-a-safer-san-francisco-108b002ebc91

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