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Sources: Mayor Lee and Ron Conway Pressured Donors into Not Supporting Aaron Peskin for Supervisor

And then things got weird.

 Ron Conway


READ MORE: Joe Eskenazi on the nasty, brutish fight for District 3.

In the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished world of politics, reliable donors are hit up for donations constantly—that’s how the game works. And that’s what around two dozen invitees likely thought they were in for when they were summoned via an email from Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign to the Hanson Bridgett law firm for an April 7 gathering. But it was soon obvious that this was no good-natured shakedown. They found the mayor flanked by his chief of staff, Steve Kawa, and top adviser, Tony Winnicker, with the “godfather of Silicon Valley”—and influential mayoral financier—Ron Conway positioned next to Winnicker.

“They were all sitting there at the head of the table, glaring at everybody,” recalls one attendee. “So it wasn’t lost on any of us what the message was.” That message: Any attendee who aids and abets Aaron Peskin in his District 3 race against Lee appointee Julie Christensen will be given “close attention”—and could face blowback when conducting future business in the city. “I was being threatened,” sums up another attendee.

Once Kawa and the mayor had made that point, Lee departed, and things “got weird.” Per witnesses, Conway said, “Well, I think we heard it pretty clear from the mayor. We’d better not have anybody here give to Aaron Peskin, or there’ll be problems with Ed Lee.” Conway then purportedly confided that he had contributed heavily to swamp David Campos’s 2014 assembly run, but feared that if he did the same for Christensen, it would bounce back on both of them. Conway then allegedly informed the assembled movers and shakers that they must pony up for Christensen. He would in turn make them whole by giving to their preferred causes.

Legal experts are unsure whether such a scheme would contravene the law—though the Political Reform Act forbids contributions “on behalf of another, or while acting as the intermediary or agent of another.” In any event, multiple attendees confirm that they’ve recounted these events to city attorney investigators. The City Attorney’s Office has refused to comment on the status of its investigation. Conway’s lobbyist, Alex Tourk, who was in attendance, declined to speak to San Francisco, as did Conway. But according to sources, Conway’s brazen offer made even Tourk squeamish. “You could tell that Alex was uncomfortable,” recalls a fellow attendee. “He had a look on his face like, ‘Please shut up, boss.’”


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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