The barrage of negative campaign fliers and Web site advertisements in the Assembly District 12 primary are being driven — to a large extent — by contributions from little-known lobbying groups and self-made loans backing the two Democratic contestants, accordingto some officials.
The race pits Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District board member Janet Reilly, wife of real estate mogul and former political consultant Clint Reilly, against Fiona Ma, San Francisco supervisor and former protégé of ex-state Sen. John Burton. The two are vying to replace Assemblyman Leland Yee, who represents San Francisco and parts of northern San Mateo County, in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Ma’s campaign has been helped by more than $700,000 spent on her behalf by independent groups to go after her Democratic rival. The independent expenditure groups, or IEs, are not subject to contribution limits or to detail where their money comes from. State law, however, requires that IEs operate separately from campaigns, something Reilly questioned in a complaint to the state Fair Political Practices Committee regarding Ma.
Among the largest financial benefactors to the IEs supporting Ma is a group backed by Burton. Leaders for an Effective Government has spent more than $600,000 on Ma’s behalf. Among the IE contributors are realty groups that like Ma’s support for the Ellis Act, which allows property owners to evict tenants to sell the property or turn it into condos, and law enforcement organizations that back her support for the death penalty.
The extent of the IEs’ participation in the District 12 race is unprecedented, said Eric Jaye, Reilly’s political consultant.
Rather than blame IEs for the negative campaign, Ma campaign consultant Tom A. Hsieh blamed the Reilly camp’s release of false information from an IRS Web site that allegedly linked Ma to Mike Rounds, the conservative Republican governor of South Dakota. "It was blatantly a smear tactic," Hsieh said, pointing out that the story broke shortly before the state Democratic Party convention in Sacramento at the end of April.
Whatever Reilly might think about the IE’s attacks against her, Ma’s campaignhas no control or influence over them, Hsieh said. In fact, "the biggest single contributor in this race is Janet Reilly," he said.
Reilly has contributed more than $400,000 to her own campaign effort since the beginning of the year. "What is very apparent to voters is that a person that has never held elected office, never created legislation, never brought together stakeholders to compromise is trying to run for one of the most important elected positions in San Francisco," Hsieh said.
Barry Hermanson, Green Party candidate in the race, said recently that the negativity of the campaign had gotten out of hand. "I saw one advertisement against Janet on the Internet that was sophomoric," Hermanson said at a debate Wednesday, which Ma was unable to attend.
Republican candidate Howard Epstein agreed, saying attacks against a candidate’s family should be out of bounds. Epstein was referring to a flier distributed earlier in the campaign by one of the independent expenditure groups, or IEs, supporting Ma that criticized Reilly’s choice to send her children to private school as "elite."