Wednesday, January 08, 2014

SF Ex: IRS 990s for Tech Mogul Conway's Charity Raise Questions

(Ron Conway with his dog. Credit: Cody Pickens.)

As I process my grief over the death of my friend Carl Goodman, I'm easing back in to political blogging. I know he'd want me to keep up my advocacy and all, so let's look at important local story.

There simply are not enough storied about nonprofits and the information contained in their tax filings. Too often, I read articles about a charity and the reporter omits details from the IRS 990 of the group so it's with great pleasure that I call attention to an article in the San Francisco Examiner on Monday by Jonah Owen Lamb with assistance from Chris Roberts. They've brought a very welcome ray of sunlight to a Tech Inc related nonprofit with City Hall friends and connections:

When Mayor Ed Lee met with tech executives at a private lunch in early December to come up with ways for the industry to be a more prominent community partner, a 2-year-old organization purporting to speak for The City’s tech sector was tapped to lead the way.

That group — San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation, or — has hundreds of members and is now looking to boost its profile by charging them an annual fee. But it remains to be seen what exactly is and will become — a philanthropic organization funneling tech largess to San Francisco, an exclusive club lobbying for tech or both. 

Yes, I too have wondered what the purpose of is and back in April blogged about a $100,000 gift from Tech Inc mogul and founder and honcho Ron Conway to the police department and then reported on persuading the SF Chronicle to do follow up about that donation. In late December I questioned how the mayor and have established joint committees to address economic disparities, and how sunshine laws would apply.

None of my calls to's spokesman Alex Tourk have been returned, but I hope he eventually gets back to me about how public comment and public engagement will take place with the joint and mayoral committees meet. This is what the Ex reported about IRS 990 filings of the group:

But’s tax forms state one purpose: “ develops and promotes key policy programs aimed at making San Francisco a better and more productive place for its members to do business. is a consolidated voice on behalf of its members in promotion of tech sector interests and growth.” [...]

The group’s 2012 tax documents show most of its roughly $661,148 — which Tourk said came from contributions from Google,, Jawbone, AT&T, Tagged and Conway himself — was spent on consulting, administration and polling. In 2012, Proposition E, which shifted much of the business-tax burden away from startups and the like, was part of the group’s efforts.

As for its philanthropic work in 2012, much is made of several initiatives, but nowhere do tax filings show that any money was spent. 

Bravo, for such coverage. Locally and nationally, this is the sort of accountability we need on a regular basis from traditional and new media outlets. And as if it wasn't enough to look at the 990s, Lamb and Roberts also took a peek at City filings related to the group:

In 2013, according to the Ethics Commission, paid Tourk $200,000 to lobby prominent politicians, including Lee, Police Chief Greg Suhr and Planning Department Director John Rahaim.

The Ex presents these additional facts and figures after the article, giving readers even more vital data:

Paper trail
A look at’s finances since it was formed in 2012:
$661,148: Contributions from members
$291,000: Consulting ($181,855 paid to Alex Tourk’s Ground Floor Public Affairs for consulting)
$119,000: IT
$94,000: Salaries and wages
$36,000: Polling and research
$33,000: Legal fees
$500: Grants
$200,000: Lobbying fees Alex Tourk charged
$160,000: philanthropic efforts 

Big thanks to Lamb and Roberts for starting off the new year with all this sunshine reporting.

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