Chronicle columnist could profit by publicizing politicians who use his new service

Willie Brown, San Francisco’s former “juice” mayor and now a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, registered and unregistered lobbyist, political fixer and oracle, civil rights pioneer, power broker and fund-raiser, and ersatz film critic, is a man of many hats. Yes, literally.

And now he’s got one more. This month marked the launch of AngelPAC, a site that serves as something of a GoFundMe for political advertisements. 

Brown’s fellow AngelPAC co-founder, Wally Baker, explained to Mission Local how the site works. Aspirational politicians or backers of political campaigns place their advertisements on the AngelPAC site, noting what geographical audience they’d like to reach. Then visitors to the site donate money to the ads they like and AngelPAC buys ads on Facebook and elsewhere — and takes a 15 percent cut.

Baker, a Southern Californian with a background in advertising, consulting, and filmmaking, describes the site as a means for political campaigns to reach new donors they otherwise likely wouldn’t, and enhance their advertising reach without spending additional money. The idea, he says, is to elect more left-leaning candidates. But, while Baker describes the site as a potential boon for “progressive” causes and Democratic candidates looking to unseat Congressional reps in red districts, it is also a for-profit venture.

When asked if outside publicity generated for a candidate using the site could result in donations flooding in that could aid that candidate’s AngelPAC ads — and yield a 15 percent take for the site — Baker answered, “absolutely.” And that’s what has both political professionals and ethicists raising their eyebrows about Brown’s involvement.

“A guy who writes about politics is now positioning himself to take a chunk of what the candidates raise,” sums up one city politico. Adds another: “It’s a closed circle: He can endorse a candidate and they can contract with this firm to do the crowd-funding.”

Bob Stern, the former head of the Center for Governmental Studies, noted that “certainly, there’s nothing illegal going on here.” But that’s not so much the issue. “Clearly, it would be ethical of Brown to divulge [in his Chronicle column] if any of the candidates he mentions” are using the service.

Well, good luck with that. Stern notes that AngelPAC offers Brown the potential to offer support and publicity to candidates on the condition they “go through his company.” But, city political players note, that potential already existed — there are, in fact, far more expedient and efficient ways to get Brown’s attention.  

Only now, with AngelPAC, one can pay via credit card.

Whether Brown submits a client list — for AngelPAC or otherwise — to his editors at the Chronicle is unknown (and unlikely).

We asked as much of editor-in-chief Audrey Cooper. We also queried whether she knew of AngelPAC prior to its launch (other editors did not); whether this business move was approved by Chronicle management; whether conditions are attached to the former mayor’s involvement in this company while writing a political column; and whether Brown will continue to have the paper’s dispensation to support and endorse candidates while involved in AngelPAC.

She has not yet returned our message. Neither has Brown.

Baker described himself as the largest shareholder in AngelPAC, holding some 82 percent of the shares. Brown, he says, is the second-largest shareholder among 10 who hold the remaining shares.

The AngelPAC site is still working out its opening-day kinks. The “blog” section is entirely composed of “lorem ipsum” placeholder text. The names of execs Steve Lambert and Dennis Regan are misspelled (“Lambart” and “Dannis”). The biographies of Baker, Lambert, Dennis and three other Southern California-based principals direct users to their LinkedIn pages. Brown’s links to his Wikipedia page.

The site’s landing page features an image of former Los Angeles Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa, however, has no connections to AngelPAC. A sample video of erstwhile San Francisco mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Gavin Newsom is included on the site, but Baker acknowledges that Newsom, too, has no ties to the site. But “one of my co-founders, Willie Brown, knows Gavin pretty well.

When asked what the 84-year-old Brown will bring to his tech platform, Baker notes that “So far, he’s done introductions for people. I am waiting for him to finish up his London Breed stuff and we’re going to get together and go deeper into it and, hopefully, work with the state Democratic party.”

“Willie knows everybody,” Baker continues. “And he understands how to get things done.”