Community, labor leaders protest scary Big Tech dark money

Astonishing unprecedented levels of outside cash try to buy elections for corporate-friendly candidates

The flood of sleazy dark money coming into Districts 1 and 11 got the attention of labor leaders and community activists, who met on the steps of City Hall today to denounce the role that Big Tech is playing in trying to buy those district seats.

Community leaders rally in the rain with Kimberly Alvarenga and Sandra Lee Fewer to denounce corporate money in the districts
Community leaders rally in the rain with Kimberly Alvarenga and Sandra Lee Fewer to denounce corporate money in the districts

It’s radical: When you look at independent expenditures – the unlimited money coming in huge chunks from interests that are sometimes hard to trace – supporters of Marjan Philhour are outspending supporters of Sandy Fewer by 27-1 in D1.

In D11, outside interests (mostly labor) have spent $45,000 to support Kimberly Alvarenga; Big Tech and anti-union real-estate interests have spent $364,000 to promote her opponent, Ahsha Safai. That’s a ratio of 8-1.

It’s clear what’s going on here: The allies of Mayor Ed Lee, who want to take back control of the Board of Supes, have decided that their best shot at blocking a progressive majority is to go after Alvarenga and Fewer. So they are pouring in the money at a staggering rate.

They are also pouring money into D9, where they are supporting Josh Arce against Hillary Ronen. And the SF POA and Dede Wilsey just kicked in more money for Arce.

As we reported earlier this week, the statewide political action committee called Progress has dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into local IEs that are active in those districts. That money is coming almost entirely from tech industry leaders. The Ex suggests that some of this has to do with the Google bus issue – the city will soon be revisiting the deal that gave the tech companies the right to use city streets and park in Muni stops for luxury shuttles to take tech workers to jobs on the Peninsula (and by the way, driving up housing costs in SF).

The tech industry wants to continue the practice of allowing unlimited office development south of SF – and wants SF to take care of housing the workforce. That’s what the shuttles do – make it possible for people to live in SF and work on the Peninsula without having to drive or take public transit.

We see the impacts on SF every day.

(I keep hearing the likes of Scott Wiener say that if there weren’t Google buses, the workers would just drive, and put more cars on the road. Seriously? Would people who now use their luxury shuttle time to work (with Wifi) in comfort spent several hours a day fighting traffic (without the ability to work, or text, or take calls) – or would they demand housing closer to their offices? The shuttles enable a system that outsources the Peninsula’s housing problems to SF.)

Another big donor: Airbnb, which wants to make sure that the next Board of Supes doesn’t try to cut into the massive amount of money its making by listing illegal hotel rooms in the city (and in the process, displacing thousands of tenants and removing rent-controlled housing).

The people who showed up Friday morning were pretty blunt: The tech industry and some realtors (including the anti-labor Robert Rosania) are trying to use their money to change SF politics.

“These large tech corporations are trying to buy the election,” said Giulio Sorro, a former teacher and now Co-Director at June Jordan School in the neighborhood of District 11. “They are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on candidates they think they can control.”

Alex Tom, from SF Rising Action Fund, added:

“The voters need to know where this money is coming from, and that these big companies like Airbnb are paying for ads to influence their votes.”

We have always seen big money in SF elections. This kind of money, in district supes races? The likes of more than $650,000 from dark-money interests trying to block progressive women from winning office?

It’s pretty much unprecedented. And really scary.

  • flight505

    Of course, London Breed has endorsed both Safai and Arce. Breed’s alliances tell a more accurate story than the hot air, misrepresentations and blather that we get from her campaign website and all her protestations at debates.

    I know people who are doing a lot to get Alvarenga elected because the district and the city need a progressive politician in D11. At the same time, however, those same people are endorsing Breed. This makes no sense, and those hypocrites will bear a substantial part of the blame if the next board of supervisors includes Breed and her Ed Lee/Ron Conway/pro-development agenda.

    Thus far, no one I know who supports Alvarenga has made even a minor gesture toward explaining why they support Breed. I don’t see anything great in her record, so tell me why you support her.

    Is it because she didn’t support Prop G (speculator tax on Ellis Act evictions)?

    Is it because she opposed Prop I (Mission moratorium)?

    Is it because she has taken a huge amount of campaign money from real estate and development interests?

    Is it because she consistently votes with the “moderate”/Ed Lee wing of the BoS? Is it because she opposed Prop F (regulation of Airbnb)? She only recently showed any interest in the devastation of rental housing caused by the criminal hotel listings – only a couple weeks ago Breed said she didn’t care about the “millions” (sic) Airbnb was making because she was concerned about the struggling middle class.

    Is it because she uses gypsy cabs to get around rather than Muni, a bike, her own two feet, or even an actual taxi cab (the kind you continue to support, rhetorically at least)?

    Is it that she upzoned the Fillmore and Divisidero corridors for significantly increased luxury condo development? And because she did so without any attempt to include her constituents in the process?

    Is it because she’s down far too little to help the tenants at Midtown? The five bucks she gave them at their barbecue last spring certainly doesn’t count as doing a whole lot.

    Is it because she is basically inaccessible to her constituents? And when she does “reply” to their concerns, she goes off on a Twitter rant?

    Is it because she has endorsed Scott Wiener (the developer’s wet dream) for Senate, rather than Jane Kim, the candidate you support?

    Is it because she’s taking credit for John Avalos’s clean power legislation?

    Is it because she is so ineffective as board president that SF voters are faced with 24 local propositions on next month’s ballot?

    Or is it something else?

    • sebra leaves

      Breed has played it down the middle on a lot of issues. She is not easy to target. She has worked to help people get past the HUD issues. Not that her credentials come close to Preston’s. Dean is a tenants rights activists at the state level. How many tenants in D-5 know that? That is the story you want to promote. Breed has done a lot for renters in her district, but not as much as Preston.

    • Geek__Girl

      Breed is doing exactly what I predicted the so-called “moderates” would do. They are trying to con the voters into thinking they have suddenly gone progressive. Shoot, the right-wing coalition for the DCCC used the term “process” to describe themselves. Breed is quite cynical in her efforts to stay in power.

      • flight505

        At the tenants rights meeting she held last December (well after Dean Preston had been doing better ones for months), Breed said that after she has completed her term or terms as supervisor, she will be forever done with politics. We’ll see if she manages to stick with that.

  • jhayes362

    Good work on this article, but I’d like to know about the people (the organizers, not the funders) behind these IE’s and political committees. What are their ties to SF politics? There’s probably an interesting mosaic that would tell us more than just where the money is coming from. They might even have some links to candidates they are supporting, a fact that would be of interest to the SF ethics commission.

  • Jon Schwark

    The use of the term “dark money” is kind of silly here. If you know who gave how much to which orgs and candidates, in what sense is it “Dark”? I’m not saying it isn’t important to shed a light on campaign funding, I just think it’s a very biased tone.

    Also in that line of thought, can we get an article about how Big Sugar is supporting the Tenants Union and other “Progressive” orgs’ electioneering this cycle? I mean just for balance sake. Diabetes = death too you know.

    • Geek__Girl

      I think it is a very accurate term. It refers to Conway, and his cronies, trying to have an undue influence on San Francisco politics. We need to tell Conway, “Hell NO! Go Away!”

  • sugarntasty

    …not for what sale apparently,board of supervisors gotten there acclaim. Public interest of residents effort of opposition whom antagonist whom persist. Approval of “gentrified policies friends of Democrats BOMA S.F,BACREN,NAIOP,CABB and ACRE. Taught lobbying for profits, admit this “economic”success never bought prosperity “middle income” San Francisco forgotten. Article rise of cartels San Francisco” going be insurance and global banking capital of west coast! Ed Lee,London Breed,David Chui and Scott Wiener (Mr.Micro house) any suggestion? Yeah!

  • Lenore Albert

    Kimberly Ellis of Emerge is running for chair. London Breed graduated from Emerge. Kimberly Ellis made a video disavowing Dark Money.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw2zGIEB16M

    However, when one looks at Emerge and even her campaign, Dark Money or Soft Money abounds when it comes to the interest of Wall Street and Billionaire Real Estate Investment and Developers Wayne Jordan and Quinn Delaney.

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/cdp-chair-candidate-lenore-albert-sheridan/is-dark-money-the-cause-for-ignoring-dark-horse-lenore-albert-sheridan-who-enter/872712202891414/