San Francisco supervisors' refusal to cap campaign cash opens door to lawsuits 

click to enlarge The legislation the Board of Supervisors rejected on Tuesday would have enacted a cap on the public funds that could be dispersed no matter the amount of third-party spending. (Examiner file photo) - THE LEGISLATION THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS REJECTED ON TUESDAY WOULD HAVE ENACTED A CAP ON THE PUBLIC FUNDS THAT COULD BE DISPERSED NO MATTER THE AMOUNT OF THIRD-PARTY SPENDING. (EXAMINER FILE PHOTO)
  • The legislation the Board of Supervisors rejected on Tuesday would have enacted a cap on the public funds that could be dispersed no matter the amount of third-party spending. (Examiner file photo)
  • The legislation the Board of Supervisors rejected on Tuesday would have enacted a cap on the public funds that could be dispersed no matter the amount of third-party spending. (Examiner file photo)

The City remains at risk of being sued over its public financing program after a proposal to make it comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling was rejected Tuesday.

Despite facing a legal bill that would be footed by taxpayers, the Board of Supervisors failed to pass legislation that would prevent San Francisco from being sued over its public financing program, which provides matching funds to candidates running for supervisor or mayor.

The Supreme Court recently ruled against a similar program in Arizona, finding it violated free-speech rights.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, with support from Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, introduced legislation that would cap public funds disbursed to candidates. They warned that if the program was not amended, The City would be sued and face legal bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Under the existing program, candidates can receive matching funds in excess of the cap if third-party spending exceeds that ceiling. The legislation would have enacted a cap on the public funds that could be dispersed no matter the amount of third-party spending.

But in a 6-5 vote, the board failed to approve the legislation. Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar and John Avalos were opposed. It required eight votes to pass.

Kim introduced another proposal that would increase the spending ceiling while also including the provisions in Farrell’s legislation. The Ethics Commission is expected to hold a hearing on Kim’s proposal in the coming weeks.

“Public financing has been an important government reform,” Kim said. “So for me, protecting that is of the utmost importance.”

Supervisor Malia Cohen supported Farrell’s legislation and blasted her colleagues for not approving it.

“We have members on the board who don’t mind spending taxpayers’ money to make a point,” Cohen said.

Nine mayoral candidates are receiving public financing. At this point, they have taken a combined $3.9 million.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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