"If I become a United States Senator, I will step off the board, put my holdings in a public trust," Booker told NBC News in an interview on Monday, in response to a question about whether his involvement in a struggling video curation website was "cashing in on your public office."
Booker's role in the website, called Waywire, was spotlighted in a New York Times front-page story last week. Set up in March 2012 by Booker and two tech world players, Waywire touts itself as a place to "discover the best video from across the web via the sources you choose and trust." Thanks to Booker, the company received early investments from Oprah Winfrey, Google's Eric Schmidt, and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman. Andrew Zucker, the 15-year-old son of CNN President Jeff Zucker, was named to the company's advisory board and given stock options. (The younger Zucker resigned from Waywire after the Times story came out.) Booker told the Times it had not been difficult to raise $1.75 million in seed money for the company "because of the power of the idea."
Here's how Booker described Waywire co-founder Sarah Ross pitching him on the role he should take with the company: "'You know what? You should do it, found the company. Obviously you don't have to be involved -- you've got a full-time job. But found the company.'"
According to the Times, Booker wound up with a larger percentage of the company than either Ross or the company's other co-founder, Nathan Richardson, even though Ross and Richardson manage the company's operations. In a financial disclosure filed last month, Booker revealed that his stake in Waywire was worth between $1 million and $5 million, making it his biggest asset.
"Cory is the inspiration architect," Ross told the Times. "He really is the thought-leader soul part of the business."
So far, however, the business has struggled. The website attracted only a few thousands visitors in June, and the company recently laid off at least eight employees and abandoned its temporary office space in Manhattan. In his interview with NBC News this week, Booker said he still believes in the company's potential.
"Waywire is not looking to sell," Booker said. "In fact, it's out for another round of financing, and there's lots of good things happening with the company, there's a lot of people who are believing in the company right now."
Booker argued that his involvement in Waywire had allowed him to help get a business off the ground, "which is an experience politicians often don't have."
"The reality is this is a company other people are running," Booker said. "I've been focused on being a mayor for the last year. As I said before, this is not a new story, if you go back there's been over a 100 things written about this [in the] last year. But now, just during campaign time, we see these kind of campaign tactics, and people are bringing it up and trying to draw attention to it."