Joe Sanberg got the news out of the way, first:
“I’m not running for anything in 2018,” he said by phone, emphasis on 2018.
Sanberg is the 38-year-old Gen-Xer who grew up in Orange County, the son of a single mom who lost her home to foreclosure. He went off to Harvard, made a bunch of money on Wall Street and came home.
Rather than living large and lavishly, Sanberg remains fixated: “I want to end poverty in California,” he said, just as he told me when we first met a few years back.
He is still involved in Aspiration.com, the online banking company with 250,000 customers and growing, and he’s a founding investor in Blue Apron, the company that delivers meal kits of fresh food with recipes marketed to people who are too busy to shop but like to cook a little.
He made a bit of news last month when the Trump administration announced plans to replace the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, by sending recipients boxes of canned and processed food.
Trump’s budget director likened the boxes to what Blue Apron sells. Sanberg took umbrage, writing in The Nation that Trump Boxes would be “a bleak, dystopian parody of the social safety net, one that robs human beings of their dignity.”
Sanberg continues to promote California’s version of the earned income tax credit. Ronald Reagan embraced the credit back in the day. So do current legislative allies, including Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. The idea is that low-income workers can file a tax return and get checks from the state and Uncle Sam—as much as $6,000.
“It is a huge opportunity to put a lot of money into the pockets of a lot people,” Sanberg said.
He helps fund and organize community events that draw attention and build support to the tax credit. Those people could form the foundation of support for some future campaign.
He had considered running for U.S. Senate, but opted out when state Senate President Pro Kevin de León decided to challenge fellow Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He calls de León a progressive, adding that Feinstein cast votes “that have contributed to the economy becoming more rigged.”
“I’m only closing the door on running for office in 2018,” he said.
For the 2018 campaign, he has created the political action committee Working Hero, aimed at helping to flip the U.S. House from Republican control, and perhaps playing in the Feinstein-de León race. He also hopes to use the committee to create a social network of working people who share the common goal of ending poverty, or at least making the economy a little more equitable. “There is a basic sense that there are two sets of rules in our society, in our culture and in our economy and people are sick of it,” he said.
The divide is not so much conservative vs progressive, but insiders vs. outsiders—those for whom the economy works and those who get the short end. Sanberg aspires to change. If you’ve got the money, there are worse ways to spend it.