Protesters show up at tech mogul’s front door to highlight pay-to-play politics
By Marco Gonzales
SEPTEMBER 17, 2015 — Wake up Mr. Conway! It’s seven in the morning, and dozens of protesters are at your doorstep.
A coalition of community and labor groups rallied outside of tech investor Ron Conway’s residence at the Four Seasons on Market St. in the wake of a new pay-to-play politics report published by Jobs with Justice.
The 60-page report highlights the tech industries overall $3.6 million in contributions to political campaigns in San Francisco between 2004 and 2015. According to the report, Conway donated 26% of all tech contributions in that time period.
The city official receiving the most out of these monetary political donations was Mayor Ed Lee, who collected ten times more money ($427,625) from the tech industry during his tenure as mayor than his predecessor Gavin Newsom brought in.
Many long time San Francisco residences see Lee’s giant intake of tech industry money as a culture shift skewed toward private interests at City Hall.
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Larry Bradshaw, a representative of SEIU Local 1021 and retired paramedic, said his 800-square-foot Bernal Heights house sold for $1 million after he was evicted.
“Most of our numbers are being pushed out to Contra Costa or Modesto to make way for high end living” Bradshaw said, “I don’t mind development, but we would like this to be a diverse city, not a playground for the wealthy.”
The money doesn’t stop at political donations. The report also notes payments made by tech moguls “At the Behest” of city officials, where politicians request wealthy individuals or companies to donate, at the behest of the official, to a local organization, charity or nonprofit.
“It’s a way for companies to give favors to officials,” Kung Feng, a report contributor and spokesperson for Jobs with Justice, said. “That company gets influence and positive good will with the official. Unlike political donations, which are limited, these behest payments you can do as much as you want.”
The number one city official to request behest payment was, again, Mayor Lee ($16 million dollars requested). The leading contributor at the behest of Mayor Lee was Ron Conway.
The report lays out the astonishing and extensive numbers on tech and real estate money contributed or lobbied through multiple levels of city government.
The weight of these monetary transactions between the tech industry and city governance ultimately falls onto the backs of those protesting outside of Four Seasons: nurses, teachers and working class residents.
“Only a third of our nurses live in San Francisco,” Maureen Dugan, the director for California Nurses Association, said. “These big companies aren’t paying their taxes, and the working people have to subsidize them.
“Mayor Lee is clearly giving breaks to tech, like Ron Conway, and he’s putting it in on the backs of the working people and we are folding under it.”
The march out front of Four Seasons was suddenly interrupted when a hotel security guard threw down a protester.
With megaphone in hand, Gus Feldman tried to reach for the door to enter the Lobby of Four Seasons. He was reportedly tossed to the ground by a security guard (one of four standing at the entrance way).
When I turned from my interview to see the commotion, I only saw Feldman on the ground, getting help up from fellow protesters.
“We saw the guards allowing a lot of other people inside, so we thought we could go inside, so when I reached for the door I was immediately thrown to the ground.” Feldman said.
The lobby of the hotel was apparently off limits to protesters. Feldman’s run in with the security guard established a fine line separating the brick sidewalk from which community activists were allowed to march and the prohibited entrance way to Mr. Conway’s residence.