DCCC distances itself from tech CEO fired after domestic violence conviction
written by Andrea Peterson
Gurbaksh Chahal greets President Obama at dinner in San Francisco in October 2012. (Via Wikicommons)
The Democratic Campaign Committee is distancing itself from one-time donor and serial online advertising entrepreneur Gurbaksh Chanal, who recently pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges stemming from an incident involving his girlfriend last August. Chahal was fired by the board of his latest endeavor, RadiumOne, after he refused to resign in the wake of his conviction.
The first chapter of Gurbaksh Chahal’s life story reads like a modern American Dream: He was born in India, and his family moved to California when he was a young child. He dropped out of high school to build his first startup in his childhood bedroom when he was just 16. He later sold the online advertising company, called ClickAgents, in an all-stock merger worth $40 million. His next venture, another tech advertising firm called BlueLithium, was bought by Yahoo in 2007 for $300 million in cash.
In recent years, Chahal appears to have worked hard to establish himself as a piece of Silicon Valley lore — appearing in the Fox television show “The Secret Millionaire,” where he gave away more than $100,000 to support residents of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, sitting down with Oprah, where he was touted as an eligible bachelor, and writing an autobiography called “The Dream.”
He also became an active political donor, as first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. Since 2011, Chahal has donated more than $100,000 exclusively to Democratic Party-aligned groups and candidates — including the maximum donation to President Obama’s reelection bid.
He shows up on the White House visitor logs twice — once Nov. 30, 2011, to see the president, and again Dec. 14, 2012, to see the president and first lady. But both events appear to be holiday parties that included audiences of several hundred people. He also appears to have met Obama on at least two occasions in San Francisco before the domestic violence incident, based on pictures of the two submitted to the media repository Wikicommons by a user going by the name “RadiumOne.”
But only one donation, a $1000 contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made in late September, appears to have been made after Chahal was charged in the domestic violence case. Asked about the donation by The Post, DCCC National Press Secretary Emily Bittner said the organizations plans to donate $1,000 to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, apparently to offset the contribution. A DCCC aide speaking on background said the organization was not aware of the charges at the time the donation was made.
Chahal pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges this month — one count of domestic violence battery and one count of battery. He was originally charged with 45 felony counts, but the prosecution settled for a plea bargain. A security tape from Chahal’s apartment, police say, captured him beating and kicking his girlfriend 117 times; the tape was ordered excluded from the case due to the circumstances under which it was obtained and the victim declined to cooperate.
“We disagree with the judge’s suppression of the video,”Alex Bastian, spokesperson for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, told the San Francisco Business Times when the plea deal was announced, saying it substantially weakened the evidence for the prosecution. Although Bastian said the deal (under which Chahal will not face jail time) was not the outcome the office hoped for, “the case has reached a resolution where the defendant acknowledges guilt, is placed on domestic violence probation and has to take domestic violence classes.”
But rather than going silently into the night, Chahal doubled down on his side of the story and proclaiming himself the victim of a witch hunt. Just hours before the news of his dismissal from RadiumOne broke Sunday, he published a blog post with multiple typos to his personal site that blamed the media for blowing up his “American Dream” while heavily implying his girlfriend engaged in prostitution. In a follow-up note published Monday, Chahal says he only accepted the plea deal under the guidance of the board that later fired him, and dismissed the criminal charges that led to his conviction as a “frivolous lawsuit.”
“This was all overblown drama because it generates huge volumes of page views for the media given what I have accomplished in the valley,” he wrote in the first post, also claiming that the coverage led to death threats referencing his ethnic background. In a previous interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Chahal recalled being forced to remove the turban associated with his Sikh religion at knifepoint as a teenager — although he later cut his hair and shaved his beard, saying it made him more amenable to investors. After the shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, Chahal started the BeProud Foundation which focuses on raising awareness about hate crimes.
In the same post, Chahal denies hitting his girlfriend 117 times as the original charges suggested, but does admit he “lost” his temper. In earlier testimony related to the case, the San Francisco Business Times reported that his legal counsel had not challenged that Chahal had repeatedly struck his girlfriend, instead arguing that her injuries were not severe as prosecutors alleged and the charges filed against him were too serious.
Chahal also appears to be attempting to justify his actions in his blog post. “The situation that resulted in my legal case began when I discovered that my girlfriend was having unprotected sex for money with other people,” he wrote. An earlier report from from the San Francisco Business Times said that police testified earlier in the case that the victim admitted during interviews that she went to Las Vegas and had sex with another man who gave her $2,500, although she said the money was “to cover expenses,” not payment for sexual acts as Chahal suggests.
Chahal apologized to family, friends, customers and investors in the first blog post, but not the girlfriend. A request for comment for this article made through his legal representation went unanswered.
But given the content of his public statements, it appears unlikely Chahal is eager to talk to members of the press. “What is the American Dream?” Chahal asked near the end of the first blog post. “That you can come from nothing and make something of yourself not once, not twice but three times, only to have all of it come crashing down from misinformation, that is [sic] spun wildly out of control into the world of make believe and then goes viral into the blogosphere.”
In a leaked internal memo obtained by Kara Swisher at Re/Code from RadiumOne’s new CEO Bill Lonergan, Lonergan said the board “moved as decisively as it could given the complexities involved.” However, “given recent developments, it became clear that Gurbaksh’s ability to lead the company had been severely compromised by the legal proceedings and ensuing developments.”
The memo also addressed the possibility of an initial public offering, leaving the option open. Chahal, who the memo notes remains on the board, is reported to have a substantial ownership stake in the company because he was the initial angel investor for the venture. “We cannot know for certain what Gurbaksh will do, and certainly hope he will take no action that hurts or distracts the company,” wrote Lonergan, but he added that he did not believe Chahal had “any legitimate claims against the company.”