San Francisco DA George Gascón denies conflict in Run, Ed, Run case 

The controversy over a campaign to get interim Mayor Ed Lee into the race in November has pulled District Attorney George Gascón into the political fray.

The Run, Ed, Run campaign, coordinated by a committee called Progress for All, has been under fire for its vague filing status, a signature drive that included city contractor Recology, and for raising almost $50,000 from business interests close to Chinatown power broker Rose Pak.

That has led ethics watchdogs and competing mayoral candidates to call for investigations into the workings of the committee. Gascón, who was appointed in January by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, is now walking a tightrope on the issue as he faces re-election in November.

Three of Gascón’s opponents in the November election issued a joint statement last week asking that he recuse himself from any investigation into whether campaign finance laws were broken by groups pushing for Mayor Ed Lee to run for election.

Gascón said he continues to weigh charges against the Run, Ed, Run campaign while also consulting the state attorney general about any conflict of interest in the case.

In an endorsement interview with the San Francisco Democratic Party this month, Gascón also acknowledged that one of his own employees, Assistant District Attorney Victor Hwang, played a major role in the Run, Ed, Run campaign, and that could give the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Democratic Party Chairman Aaron Peskin asked Gascón about the conflict in the endorsement interview, and Gascón replied that he didn’t see any conflict with himself conducting an investigation.

“He said, ‘I don’t believe I have a conflict and if the evidence is there, I will prosecute,’” Peskin said.

Hwang said he hopes Attorney General Kamala Harris takes over the case for Gascón’s sake.

“He’s a good DA who should be judged on his own merits and not dragged into this political drama generated by Peskin,” Hwang said. “I am confident that any neutral fact-finder will conclude that there is no basis to these false allegations.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is also probing the Run, Ed, Run campaign. A deputy U.S. attorney recently called Peskin to get a copy of an ethics complaint that he submitted in July. That complaint challenges the notion that Progress for All was a committee formed with purposes other than getting Lee to run.

That complaint differed from a separate complaint sent by retired judge and former state Sen. Quentin Kopp.

Kopp’s letter, to both Gascón and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, questioned a signature drive by Recology employees to get Lee to run for mayor that was apparently orchestrated by Pak herself.

Questions have also arisen regarding a $5,000 check given to Progress for All that was falsely reported as coming from real estate mogul Victor Makras, who supports Dennis Herrera for mayor.

Gascón was not available for comment Thursday, but District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Erica Derryck said the office was weighing the allegations in Kopp’s letter.  

“Our office has seen the letter and we’re evaluating the information, and it’s too early to say what, if anything, that evaluation will yield,” she said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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Monday, Aug 29, 2016

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