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Who is pouring $400K into San Francisco ballot measure empowering cops?

A side by side of two men
Tech investors Chris Larsen, left, and Ron Conway are lining up alongside the police union to finance a ballot measure from Mayor London Breed. | Source: Courtesy Chris Larsen ; Drew Altizer Photographhy

Tech heavyweights Ron Conway and Chris Larsen are lining up alongside San Francisco’s police union to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign supporting Mayor London Breed’s public safety measure on the March ballot, which seeks in part to neuter the city’s Police Commission.

Together with the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the Silicon Valley angel investors have dumped a combined $400,000 into a committee supporting Breed’s Proposition E on the March ballot, according to campaign finance records and a spokesperson for the committee. 

The contributions, to a campaign called Committee for a Safer San Francisco 2024, amount to the largest war chest amassed so far in the March election cycle. The measure is shaping up to be one of the most contentious on the ballot, with the ACLU of Northern California giving $100,000 to defeat it.

READ MORE: Tech Boss Tops List of Donors to Breed’s March 2024 Ballot Measures

Breed’s measure would throttle the power of the Police Commission, redefine the rules for when police officers can engage suspects in vehicle pursuits and give police access to drones. It would also reduce the amount of paperwork officers have to file in some cases after using force, and let Police Chief Bill Scott install public-facing security cameras at locations of his choice.

Larsen told The Standard he is supporting the proposal because society “overcorrected” after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and has taken steps antithetical to public safety. He said the police department should be allowed to leverage new tools to offset its officer staffing shortage.

“The Police Commission has unfortunately not been very constructive when it comes to this balance between reform and public safety,” he said. “There’s a little too much performative things going on there and I think that’s a problem.”

The Police Commission has become a lightning rod for anxieties about crime and lawlessness in San Francisco, with Breed accusing the commission of putting reform ideology over public safety. The oversight body is made up of seven civilians who are tasked with setting police policy and disciplining officers.

But opponents of her measure say that Breed is simply using the issue to shore up her November re-election campaign. Four police commissioners—one of whom was appointed by Breed but publicly split from her—penned an argument this month calling the measure poorly drafted, especially when it comes to loosening the rules around police pursuits.

At $250,000, the largest donation supporting the measure came from Larsen, the executive chairman and co-founder of crypto firm Ripple who is also known for funding security camera networks around the city.

Larsen is also giving $100,000 to another of Breed’s measures, Proposition F, which would compel some welfare recipients to undergo drug screening.

Conway, founder and a managing partner of SV Angel, gave $100,000. He is another longtime deep-pocketed political donor who has historically supported moderate political campaigns and was a big backer of Mayor Ed Lee.

While its donation has not yet appeared in campaign finance reports, the police union contributed $50,000, according to the committee. The donation marks its biggest in San Francisco since the union poured hundreds of thousands into an unsuccessful campaign to defeat Chesa Boudin in his 2019 campaign to become district attorney, culminating in chants of “F– the POA.

While a spokesperson for Conway said he has no relationship with the police union, this is not the first time they’ve been on the same team. They each spent big opposing Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s 2015 race to return to office.

Lee Hepner, an attorney and former aide to Peskin, fired off a pithy tweet describing the alliance between Conway, Larsen and the police union.

Nightmare blunt rotation,” Hepner wrote.

“It’s a frightening combination of some of the most radical, self-interested political vehicles in San Francisco from venture capital, to crypto currency, to conservative law enforcement,” Hepner said in a subsequent phone call. “That does not spell safety for San Francisco residents or visitors.”

Tony Winnicker, a spokesperson for Conway, said that the tech investor considers the measure the most important on the ballot.

“He’s a resident of the city and he definitely agrees that public safety is the most important challenge facing the city,” Winnicker said. “He believes Prop. E will make a positive difference and so he’s proud to support.”

Police union president Tracy McCray did not respond to a request for comment.

Breed asked the police union to support the measure, and also discussed her proposal with both Larsen and Conway, according to the campaign.

Breed’s ballot measure is backed by a range of business associations as well as moderate politicians and political groups, including state Sen. Scott Wiener, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and TogetherSF Action.

It is opposed by police commissioners Cindy Elias, Max Carter-Oberstone, Kevin Benedicto and Jesus Yáñez as well as progressive groups such the ACLU of Northern California and the Coalition on Homelessness.

Mike Ege contributed to this report.