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News + Politics Airbnb suddenly drops $245,000 into local politics

Airbnb suddenly drops $245,000 into local politics

Big donations to measures sponsored by Farrell, Cohen, and Lee and to DCCC candidates come days after a new bill is introduced to more tightly regulate the company

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Just days after Sups. David Campos and Aaron Peskin announced a measure to more tightly regulate short-term rentals, Airbnb, the biggest company in that business, dropped $245,000 into local political campaigns.

A new committee set up by Airbnb, called the Committee to Expand the Middle Class, gave $100,000 to Prop. B, the Rec-Park set-aside measure sponsored by Sup. Mark Farrell, $10,000 to Prop. D, the police-accountability measure backed by Sup. Malia Cohen, and $100,000 the Mayor Ed Lee’s Prop. A, according to filings with the city’s Ethics Commission.

The big money for Airbnb is in illegal rentals -- and there are a lot of them, as this map shows
The big money for Airbnb is in illegal rentals — and there are a lot of them, as this map shows

The committee also gave between $2,500 and $5,000 each to members of the pro-real-estate slate for the Democratic County Central Committee. The beneficiaries of that money:

Tom Hsieh, Zoe Dunning, Francis Tsang, Alix Rosenthal, Rebecca Prozan, Leah Pimentel, Trevor McNeil, Mary Jung, and Kat Anderson.

All of those contributions were made between April 25, the day the new bill was announced, and May 1.

The Committee itself has only filed the most basic paperwork with the California Secretary of State, so we don’t know where all of its money comes from, but we know most of it is Airbnb, because by law the group had to file as “The Committee to Expand the Middle Class, Supported by Airbnb, Inc.”

The phone number for the committee goes to the office of Kevin R. Henegan, who works for Airbnb.

Corporations put money into local politics all the time, but it’s somewhat astonishing to see this much cash pour in this quickly just as the supervisors and the mayor are about to consider a bill that would impact Airbnb’s profits.

“If there is any doubt that government is for sale, just look at this,” Campos told me. “Just as we introduce a measure that would make this corporation be more accountable and responsible, they decide to throw their weight around.”

Noted Peskin: “They are trying to buy votes at the Board of Supervisors.”

Peskin, who ran successfully against big money from the likes of Airbnb last fall, said that “they were unable to fool the voters of District 3, and I hope they won’t be able to fool the voters of San Francisco.”

Calls to Henegan were not returned, nor was a call to Airbnb’s lobbyist, David Owen.

UPDATE: I called Farrell to ask how a campaign he is pushing suddenly got $100,000 from a business that will soon be lobbying him on a piece of important legislation. Did Owen contact him and offer the money? Did he solicit it? He didn’t call me back; instead, campaign consultant Maggie Muir, who is working on the Yes on B campaign, called.

I asked her the same questions. She said that “it’s not at all unusual for a company to be concerned about parks, recreation, and open space in San Francisco.” Yes, I said, but who offered the money to whom, and did anyone with the Yes on B campaign ask for it?

“That is the statement I’m giving you,” she said.

I asked again: Can you please check around and see who asked for or offered the money? “No,” she said.

So there you have it.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

203 COMMENTS

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  36. After looking into it further, I discovered that the same “hotel” got an enforcement notice in December 2014. The issue was abated two months later, which can only mean it was shut down as there is no way that unit could become a legal STR. Of course, that didn’t stop Justin and Annabelle Parfitt from entirely ignoring that and continuing to run their illegal hotel. Similar situation with 1649/1651 Page Street.

    Clearly the legislation ghostwritten by Airbnb for David Chiu is a complete failure.

  37. Airbnb has a listing for 817 Oak Street is illegally being used as a full-time 6-bedroom, 6-bathroom hotel. The link to the listing is below.

    Based on the extensive renovation the owner did last year, she clearly planned to use it as a hotel. “Annabelle” (the person Airbnb calls the “host”) also has a flat in Toronto based on the reviews posted on Airbnb.

    I have reported this struggling middle-class SF resident to the Planning Department.

    https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/10945285?s=MCH6zTtx

  38. When 90% of the planet believes in some form of a made up god that DOES NOT EXIST that resonates with them…..it IS NOT a stretch to see how the masses can ALSO believe that corporations like Airbnb really ‘care’ about ‘parks, recreation and open space’ in San Francisco. $250K from a corporation for that? We live in a world where the masses are FREAKING STUPID! I don’t blame Airbnb and the likes of Maggie Muir having the gall to say that BS about ‘parks, recreation and open space’ and expecting it to fly over! The masses have NEVER been confused with Mensa candidates!

  39. hotels have surprisingly done very little to stop airbnb. especially in san francisco, the hotel industries all do just fine. they don’t view airbnb as a major threat (yet). and by the way, did you know that airbnb is worth more than even the biggest hotel chain? so really, airbnb is now the 800-pound gorillas and hotels are the davids.

  40. airbnb’s lobbying is very frightening. it took the big bad corporations several years before they started throwing money to buy politicians. airbnb is worse than the worst. we should all be afraid.

  41. San Francisco voters need an honest ballot labelling Mary Jung, Zoe Dunning, Tom Hsieh and the other recipients of Airbnb political largesse “bought and paid for by Airbnb.”

  42. AirBnB is NOT PAYING all that in taxes, that is what they TURN OVER FROM VISITORS who pay the tax. How much is AirBnB paying in INCOME tax to SF?

  43. Yesterday I got a mailer that says Wiener, Chiu, Breed, and Cohen among others are willing to work for no pay, no benefits, and no pension.

    How else to understand “will work for FREE”?

  44. Silicon Valley Titans want to rule the world.
    Vote against anything and everything they are for.
    Vote for everything they are against.
    simple
    Just ban Airbnb, go to a hotel if you want to rent a room.

  45. Oh, “campaign contributions” – why didn’t you say they were ‘contributing’ instead of “taking”.

    I still find it curious that those who only work HERE but live elsewhere should have more say than those who live here and pay taxes here as well.

    I guess its OK for only outsiders to bribe our politicians.

  46. You can figure it out — Airbnb is paying $14 million a year in TOT taxes which means that gross bookings are $100,000,000. Airbnb keeps 13% of that.

    At an average of $220 a night that means that there are, on average, 1,245 bookings a night.

    And as Tim has reported several times, 6,000 of those 1,245 units (482%) are taken directly out of the rental inventory.

    Not sure why you think that any money is being taken OUT of San Francisco. The money is paid by tourists (as @curiousKulak:disqus noted) and San Francisco gets its cut of $14 million a year. It seems logical that more tourists can visit San Francisco for longer periods and they can spend some money in a neighborhood. Do the math on keeping 3 kids in an Airbnb unit and buying food in a grocery store vs staying at a hotel.

  47. It suggests how much money Airnb must be taking OUT of San Francisco that it has this much money for bribes — oops, did I say “bribes”? “Campaign contributions,” that’s what I meant. Isn’t that better?

  48. So, would you be in favor of approving 6000 new hotel rooms? (YES – as long as its not in my neighborhood)

  49. You mean, a portion (13%) of the outside money that tourists bring in – which they then take.

  50. Except for the thousands of homes taken off the housing market. How helpful for the real estate “industry,” too. A city that lets itself be f**ked by money deserves it. Go money vampires! Kill San Francisco!

  51. Well, its not just the Hotels/union that are ticked. There are neighbors who don’t like the traffic, insecurity or racket; there are landlords that resent their tenants making money while their prices are fixed but costs aren’t; and there are tenants who get kicked out seeing prop owners turn around and let out their units as STRs (not saying that’s not legit – but some are highly incensed at the upheaval of their entitlement).

    STRs, and by extension ABnB and the others, will eventually be crushed and subdued by regulation – like traditional BnBs.

    You’d think this town would be swarming with traditional BnBs, but … if you check out the hurdles, its pretty clear you’d never want to make the effort. But the econ boom has boasted the prices for this product, and platforms like ABnB make (made) it easy and profitable to do. Maybe the hotels will eventually succeed in squeezing this competition out. In combo with the Unions, they’ve done so in the past.

  52. It certainly suggests how much Airnb must be taking OUT of San Francisco to have this much money for bribes.

  53. I mean, but the opposite is also true. The only reason that AirBnB is facing political pressure is probably because hotels are putting political pressure on politicians for the sake of their own profits. There’s no reason to “regulate” individual contracts of this nature.

  54. Campos questions the integrity of his colleagues, saying they are for sale.

    Meanwhile he has been getting the same type of funding from the hotel unions.

    Pathetic little angry man.

    But I do like the map with all the dots. Looks great.

  55. Airbnb is turning out to be an even bigger bully in SF politics than Ron Conway. He’s going to need to step up his game if he’s going to maintain his rep in this neighborhood.

  56. Airbnb is turning out to be an even bigger bully in SF politics than Ron Conway. He’s going to have to step up if he’s going to maintain his rep i

  57. Actually, I thought it was kinda witty, and pretty much spot-on.

    However, I will note that ABnB spent about 20x what HERE did. OTOH, ABnB is representing SF residents who are hosts (even if they are doing stuff illegally); Unite HERE is only representing a small number of SF residents who are members of that union working in that industry.

    On that, you lost your own argument.

  58. For sarcasm to win it must have wit. But it also must be able to back up an argument. You lose on both counts. Bye.

  59. Jeez, why are you arguing with the choir?

    If the voters reject a progressive platform it HAS to be because they were blinded by money. Everybody knows that. What other explanation could there possibly be?

    There are only two types of elections – those that progressives win and those where voters were blinded by money. Didn’t you learn that in school?

  60. You mean the proposition that Airbnbedbug spent $8 million to defeat? Yeah, that was an even playing field.

  61. Your side, of course. I just said that your side is always right and it always represents the will of the voters.

    Just last year there was a vote on regulating Airbnb and it got 100% of the vote. Because your side is always right.

  62. I know, relax. Your side is the right side, the good side, so of course it is perfectly fine when your side does it. The other side is evil. When they do it an article in 48 Hills is required and Campos needs to call them out.

    The people who call your side hypocritical just don’t understand that rules that apply to the bad guys don’t exist for the good guys.

    So just chill. It’s all good.

  63. A democratically represented union advocating for legions of its workers? Oh, horrors! With your low tolerance for pay-for-play, you must REALLY suffer when self-interested corporate boards shell out by the millions!

  64. Campos got $5,000 from Unit Here, a hotel union, $5,000 from Seven Hill Properties and Yerba Buena Commons (private SRO manager/developer), and $4,000 from Michael O’Donoghue, a real estate consultant, for his 2016 campaign to DCCC. But his positions on home-sharing, SROs, and housing aren’t “for sale”. Isn’t he a big hypocrite?

  65. Campos:
    ““If there is any doubt that government is for sale, just look at this,” Campos told me. “Just as we introduce a measure that would make this corporation be more accountable and responsible, they decide to throw their weight around.”

    Shocking! Only Airbnb would stoop so low. The hotel unions like Unite Here would never.

    Oh, wait. Never mind.

  66. Tim –
    Not sure what the graphic shows. Green? Red? Registered? Unregistered? Full unit vs room-4-rent?? Are these just ABnB or does this include ALL STRs?

    I will accept the premise that ABnB makes a lot of money from “illegal” and unregistered units (roughly 2/3s of their listings). But doesn’t the City benefit as well? (at least from ABnB, don’t know if VBMO and others collect the TOT; Craigslist sure doesn’t!)

    And I would guess the benefit is in equal measure, as the City’s TOT = 14% while ABnB only gets 13% of a listing. How much is that, anyway?

  67. Loved my “Democrat reform party” mailer. A reform party that involves Peskin and “no nothing anywhere ever” wannabe Golinger. Waiting for my YIMBY flyer from Sue Hestor.

  68. Interesting which DCCC candidates got money from Airbnb. They are all extremely vulnerable this June, and I bet all but one or maybe two are going to lose anyway.

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