In 1986, San Franciscans were presented with Proposition F, which “prohibited any person from contributing more than $500 to a candidate for municipal office.” In the voter information pamphlet from that election, backers of Prop. F called on residents to, “Tell the special interests that the voters will no longer tolerate the influence-buying which comes with large campaign contributions.” And tell them we did! Prop. F passed with more than 56 percent of the vote and has been the law ever since.
But so far this year, six members of the Board of Supervisors have received an average of $16,650 apiece in campaign contributions that are larger than $500. Why is that?
It’s because they are running for an additional office — the Democratic County Central Committee. That committee sets the local policies for the Democratic Party, and on our upcoming Election Day this Tuesday, voters who are registered Democrats will decide who sits on the DCCC. There are no campaign contribution limits in a DCCC race, and according to financial disclosures filed last week, it is open season.
And by “open season” I mean this: Current members of the Board of Supervisors are being courted by special interests who funnel money into DCCC campaign coffers to skirt campaign contribution limits that apply to regular city elections.
The evidence is stark. Let us begin by examining the extraordinary disparity in fundraising between current officeholders and nonsupervisor candidates who are running for the DCCC. Of the 33 nonsupervisor candidates who have filed financial disclosures (four candidates have not raised enough to file and seven simply have not filed), 17 of them have had to bankroll at least part of their own campaigns, with the average self-contribution at $1,570. When controlled for self-contributions, the average amount of cash raised by these candidates is $8,461.
On the other hand, only one sitting supervisor contributed to his own DCCC campaign funds — Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who gave himself $500. Not that he or any other supe needed to, as they each raised an average of $26,085.
Now one might argue that this disparity is explained by the amazing fundraising prowess of the current supes, but even Carol Migden — who was in elected office for 15 years — has only raised $7,090 for her DCCC fund. Former Supervisor Bevan Dufty and current Board of Education member Hydra Mendoza combined have only raised $17,680. It’s clear that the big money is for current supervisors only.
Another telling fact: the largest contributors are directing money squarely at current supervisors and almost no one else. For example, the Service Employees International Union has given a total of $13,500 to only four DCCC candidates: supervisors John Avalos, Malia Cohen, Eric Mar and Scott Wiener. The San Francisco Apartment Association has given a total of $13,000 to supervisors Chiu, Cohen and Wiener. Other developers and public employee unions have given a total of almost $18,000 spread among only eight campaigns; six are current supervisors.
So what can the supervisors do with DCCC campaign money? While they can’t use the money for supervisorial re-election campaigns, they spend the DCCC money on mailings, TV ads and fliers, which benefit both their DCCC and their future supervisorial races because name recognition is key in local elections. (Note that supervisors David Campos, Avalos, Chiu and Mar are up for re-election in November.)
Moreover, the mailings, TV ads and fliers do not really have to focus on DCCC issues, as long as they do not mention that a candidate is running for supervisor. For example, Supervisor X could use his DCCC account to pay for a TV ad that says “Supervisor X — a proven leader for San Francisco” and touts all of his accomplishments and experience, but never even mentions the DCCC, other than the little “Paid for by Supervisor X for DCCC” line.
Supervisors also use their DCCC accounts to dole out donations to political clubs and politically oriented charities, and to pay for polling — expenses that benefit both campaigns.
Back in 1986, one argument against Prop. F was that it wouldn’t accomplish its stated goal of reducing the role of special interests in elections. One argument stated, “They can always find ways around campaign limits.” But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to cut off the most offensively obvious avenues.
Service Employees International Union
San Francisco Apartment Association
Ronald Mallia, Real Estate Developer
San Francisco Police Officers Association
Seven Hills Properties LLC
San Francisco Laborers Local 261
Name Contribution over $500 Total
*Not a member of the Board of Supervisors
Source: Campaign filings