The controversy that erupted last summer over political spending encouraging Ed Lee to run for mayor has prompted the San Francisco Ethics Commission to create a new campaign finance category applicable to such groups.
The commission voted unanimously Monday to call any effort supporting an undeclared person for an elected office a “draft committee.” As with independent expenditure committees, draft committees will not be subject to spending or contribution limits. Other filing requirements will be the same.
After then-Mayor Gavin Newsom was elected as the state’s lieutenant governor, Lee was appointed as a caretaker mayor with the promise that he would not run for election. But as the candidate-filing deadline for the November 2011 race approached, political groups formed and began raising and spending tens of thousands of dollars on what they called an effort to persuade Lee to run.
As colorful cartoon ads bearing Lee’s mustachioed visage began popping up all over town, those unprecedented efforts operated in a legal gray area, igniting a political firestorm and raising significant questions for the commission, which is charged with enforcing San Francisco’s political campaign laws.
Five mayoral candidates signed a letter calling on the commission to investigate the most popular of these efforts — the committee named Progress For All, more commonly known as Run, Ed, Run — for campaign violations.
The commission had to figure out everything from scratch, including what filing requirements such groups must adhere to and whether they should be treated as committees created to benefit existing candidates and thus be held to The City’s $500 maximum contribution per donor.
“There were at least three such committees, I think, maybe four,” Ethics Commission Executive Director John St. Croix said during Monday night’s commission hearing. “Some of them raised good sums of money. My concern was that they were functioning as campaigns without actually being campaigns. … The committees kept saying, ‘We are not a campaign. We don’t have a candidate. We can’t be a campaign without a candidate.’ And the commission accepted that. But at the same time, they were raising money and spending money that had the effect of a campaign while not being regulated.”
Under the proposed rules, a “draft committee” must specify whom it’s supporting in its title. As soon as that person were to become a candidate, the draft committee would have to disband or change its designation.
For the proposal to become law, it would require at least eight votes from the Board of Supervisors. It is unclear when the board will vote.