San Francisco supervisors tweaking campaign cash law for 2012 

click to enlarge A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on an Arizona campaign cash law has caused the Board of Supervisors to take a closer look at San Francisco's law. (Examiner file photo) - A RECENT U.S. SUPREME COURT RULING ON AN ARIZONA CAMPAIGN CASH LAW HAS CAUSED THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT SAN FRANCISCO'S LAW. (EXAMINER FILE PHOTO)
  • A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on an Arizona campaign cash law has caused the Board of Supervisors to take a closer look at San Francisco's law. (Examiner file photo)
  • A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on an Arizona campaign cash law has caused the Board of Supervisors to take a closer look at San Francisco's law. (Examiner file photo)

Candidates vying for a seat on the Board of Supervisors next year could receive up to $150,000 in taxpayer money, a $61,000 increase to the existing public financing cap.
 
The public finance program provides matching funds to candidates running for mayor or supervisor if they agree to a spending cap. If third-party spending exceeds the cap, candidates are entitled to receive more matching funds.

But a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a similar program in Arizona found using the amount of third-party spending as a trigger to give a candidate more taxpayer funding violates the First Amendment. How The City changes its public finance program following this ruling has been the subject of tense debate over the past few months.

One solution offered was to just impose a hard cap on the public funds dispersed — $900,000 for mayoral candidates and $89,000 for supervisorial candidates — but the Board of Supervisors rejected it last month.

The latest solution is being put forth by Supervisor Jane Kim, who has proposed legislation that would boost the amount of public dollars  candidates for supervisor can receive in November 2012, and then impose the cap. Kim said she wants to protect the integrity of public financing. Under the proposal, candidates could receive matching public dollars up to $150,000 and the spending limit would increase from $143,000 to $245,000.

Kim looked at other options such as a higher cap, or higher caps in districts where elections cost more, but decided to go with an overall average cap based on past candidate spending. In four supervisor races last year, a total of $1.48 million in taxpayer dollars was given to candidates.

Supervisor Mark Farrell said Kim’s proposal was too piecemeal. “The last thing we should do without evaluating the program as a whole is increase the amount candidates can receive,” Farrell said. He said the program needs to be examined thoroughly to determine if it is working, to see if candidates really need it to run or if The City  is “wasting taxpayer money.”

The Ethics Commissions will hold a hearing Wednesday on Kim’s legislation. It would take votes from four of the five commissioners to pass it. If approved, the Board of Supervisors would vote on it, and it would take eight of the 11 board members to become law.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd had supported just placing a hard cap on the public financing. But he said at the very least Kim’s proposal should be staggered to avoid “blatant self-interest” to ensure board members who vote it don’t benefit from it during a re-election bid.

Looking ahead to the next election

Public financing rules could change, impacting supervisorial candidates’ November 2012 races for odd-numbered districts.

$89K Amount in public funds supervisorial candidates can receive if spending cap is not broken

$150K Total proposed amount supervisorial candidates could receive, even if spending cap is broken

$143K Current spending cap for publicly financed supervisorial candidates

$245K Proposed spending cap for publicly financed supervisorial hopefuls

$1.48M Total amount of public financing given to candidates in November 2010 in four supervisorial elections
 
Source: Ethics Commission

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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