On a foggy day in San Francisco last week, politicians and tech moguls gathered outside Salesforce Tower, the tallest office building west of the Mississippi, to celebrate the skyscraper’s grand opening. This was peak San Francisco — a display of power and influence topped off by Marc Benioff holding hands with the mayor of San Francisco as a blessing was said over the cone-shaped, vaguely phallic 61-story tower.
San Francisco is, for better or worse, a tech city. The tech sector creates tens of thousands of jobs annually in the nine-county Bay Area, making it the single biggest engine of the local economy, though that job growth is starting to slow.
As startups blossom, attracting a wave of entrepreneurs and investment dollars, the tech industry has achieved significant clout in local politics. We rounded up the tech and business luminaries who emerged as political power players in San Francisco.
Airbnb’s Brian Chesky tangled with city officials and hotel unions to keep Airbnb alive in San Francisco.
Title: CEO of Airbnb
Biggest power play: In 2015, Airbnb spent more than $8 million to defeat a San Francisco ballot measure that would have severely restricted short-term home rentals, including those listed through other services such as Craigslist and Vrbo.
Employees of the San Francisco startup have given Gavin Newsom — the politician who helped beat the measure, and who is now running for California governor — $228,000 in donations.
Ron Conway, known as the “Godfather of Silicon Valley,” has funneled money into hundreds of startups as well as political campaigns for moderate and tech-friendly candidates.
Title: Angel investor and founder of SV Angel
Biggest power play: Conway, one of the tech industry’s most prominent and powerful startup investors, also backs political hopefuls. He’s poured reported millions of dollars into local elections, including $275,000 in 2012 to pass a ballot measure that lowered tax rates for tech companies that he invested in such as Airbnb, Twitter, and Zynga.
Conway was a longtime friend and advisor to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, whose death from a heart attack in December catapulted Supervisor London Breed — a fellow recipient of Conway’s political contributions over the years — into the hot seat. Her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors moved swiftly to replace her as interim mayor, saying publicly that they did so to send a message to Conway that “San Francisco can’t be bought.”
Conway has denied making any attempts to sway the Board of Supervisors’ vote.
Salesforce’s Marc Benioff has been spreading his billions over several causes near and dear to San Francisco residents.
Title: Cofounder and CEO of Salesforce
Biggest power play: Benioff and his wife, Lynne, want to end family homelessness in San Francisco by 2019, and have donated $11.5 million to Hamilton Families, an organization that puts families on the streets into permanent housing, to do just that.
The San Francisco power couple has contributed millions of dollars to causes from schools to hospitals, writing two $100 million checks to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland. In 2018, Benioff gave big to sponsor a San Francisco ballot measure that, if passed, will go toward raising teacher salaries.