Cory Booker’s tech start-up debacle

The likely senator's ownership stake -- and desire for investments -- in a tech company is raising real questions

Topics: Cory Booker, New York Times, New Jersey, Silicon Valley, 2013 Elections,

After the 15-year old son of CNN president Jeff Zucker quit the board of a tech-start up that was co-founded by Cory Booker, questions remain about Booker’s exact role in the company, and how much his stake in it is worth.

Zucker’s move was spurred by a report in the New York Times earlier this week about Booker’s role as chairman of  the company, Waywire, for which he has gotten money from investors like Google chair Eric Schmidt and Oprah Winfrey. Booker’s ties to the tech industry run deep, though his relationship to Waywire is still a bit murky — he didn’t declare his ownership stake in the company until Tuesday, after he filed to run for Senate, and just before the Times published its report. From the Times (emphasis added):

A year after its debut, Waywire has already endured a round of layoffs and had just 2,207 visitors in June, according to Compete, a Web-tracking service. The company says it is still under development.

Yet in a financial disclosure filed last month, Mr. Booker, 44, revealed that his stake in the company was worth $1 million to $5 million. Taken together, his other assets were worth no more than $730,000.

That revelation, with just a week left in Mr. Booker’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate, shows how a few tech moguls and entrepreneurs, many of them also campaign donors, not only made a financial bet on the mayor’s political future but also provided the brainpower and financing to help create a company that could make him very rich.

According to the Times, the company has employed the son of a big supporter of Booker’s campaign for senate, and Booker’s social media consultant, in addition to Andrew Zucker.

With a rather dry headline (Boy, 15, Quits Board Tied to Booker Start-Up), the Times reported Wednesday that Zucker quit the web video-sharing company, “in order to avoid even the perception of a conflict,” as his spokesman put it. The spokesman added that the 15-year old’s “affiliation with Waywire was extremely limited to only an advisory capacity.”



The Times continued to hit Booker about his ties to the company, with an editorial on Wednesday that called on the Newark Mayor to “give a full and personal accounting of his involvement” with Waywire. “Over his years as Newark mayor, Mr. Booker has used his star power and his connections to Internet billionaires to help his city and finance his campaigns. That’s fine. But if he is elected as hoped, Mr. Booker needs to make certain these connections don’t create a conflict or an appearance of conflict with his job in Washington,” the op-ed says.

Booker is currently the clear frontrunner in the Democratic primary for New Jersey’s special election to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg — and he’s leading in the polls for the general election as well.

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at jrayfield@salon.com.

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