Salesforce’s Benioff Spars With Twitter’s Dorsey Over Support for Homeless

(Bloomberg) -- Salesforce.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff gave fellow San Francisco corporate titan Jack Dorsey a piece of his mind on Twitter Friday. Benioff is one of the few tech leaders willing to criticize his own so openly.

On Twitter, Benioff questioned Dorsey’s commitment to combating the city’s homeless crisis and drew attention to tax breaks that he said Dorsey’s companies, Twitter Inc. and Square Inc., got for putting their offices on Market Street, a main San Francisco thoroughfare that is a nexus of poverty and urban renewal. (Square’s address is excluded from the tax break, according to the city).

Earlier this week, Benioff came out in support of a corporate tax increase that could double San Francisco’s budget to fight its rampant homeless problem. Benioff committed $1 million to campaign for a San Francisco ballot initiative called “Proposition C.” The initiative proposes an additional tax of at least 0.175 percent on businesses’ gross receipts above $50 million. Half of the money for Benioff’s campaign will come from Salesforce’s corporate coffers and the other half from Benioff himself, he told the San Francisco Chronicle.  

San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, and the city’s Chamber of Commerce oppose ballot initiative. Dorsey tweeted out his opposition to Proposition C on Friday. 

In an interview Friday with Bloomberg, Benioff doubled-down on his criticism of Dorsey. “If you're going to fight a relatively small tax, which is one half of one percent to help our number 1 issue, then you better prepared to talk about what you are doing versus what you don't want to do,” Benioff said. A Twitter spokesman declined to comment. 

“As you know Jack is the first major tech CEO to come out against it, and he did it by forwarding my tweet that was for it, so I felt obligated to respond,” Benioff told Bloomberg.

Critics of Prop C say that it sets aside too much of San Francisco’s budget to one issue, giving it less control over long-term spending. The new mayor has said that the city needs to better spend the money it already dedicates to combating homelessness. 

Benioff, long rumored to be a candidate for San Francisco mayor one day, has positioned himself as a liberal and charitable leader. He encourages fellow CEOs to join his 1-1-1 effort which asks companies to donate 1 percent of their equity, 1 percent of their time, and 1 percent of their product to charitable causes. But calling out a fellow CEO is a bold move, even for Benioff. The editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Chronicle summed it up this way. 

For his part, Benioff brushed off the suggestion that he was trying to burnish his image in San Francisco ahead of a run for mayor. “I will never be in political office. I believe business is the greatest platform for change,” he said.

E-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. recently fought a corporate tax in Seattle aimed at addressing that city’s homeless problem. But Benioff says his investors aren’t complaining that he’s campaigning for a tax increase. “Take a look at my 14 year stock chart,” he added. Salesforce shares have returned more than 30 percent a year since its 2004 IPO. 

No one doubts the seriousness of San Francisco’s homeless crisis, which is both a human tragedy and a blight on the city. The New York Times recently profiled what it called “The Dirtiest Block in San Francisco.” By last count, in 2017, the city had 7,499 people without homes.

“This is the Bay Area: We have 70 billionaires. We're the headquarters of the 4th industrial revolution,” Benioff said. “We're in a homeless crisis.”

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