Amid DA investigation, SF Mayor Ed Lee returns controversial campaign donations 

District Attorney George Gascón says his office is looking into donations to Ed Lee’s mayoral campaign made by two shuttle company workers. (Examiner file photo) - DISTRICT ATTORNEY GEORGE GASCÓN SAYS HIS OFFICE IS LOOKING INTO DONATIONS TO ED LEE’S MAYORAL CAMPAIGN MADE BY TWO SHUTTLE COMPANY WORKERS. (EXAMINER FILE PHOTO)
  • District Attorney George Gascón says his office is looking into donations to Ed Lee’s mayoral campaign made by two shuttle company workers. (Examiner file photo)
  • District Attorney George Gascón says his office is looking into donations to Ed Lee’s mayoral campaign made by two shuttle company workers. (Examiner file photo)

A criminal investigation into Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign contributions has been launched by the District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday the investigation into whether donations from workers at GO Lorrie’s Airport Shuttle were laundered was sparked by an Oct. 7 letter from City Attorney Dennis Herrera, one of Lee’s top rivals in the mayoral race. Lee was blasted last week by campaign opponents after it was revealed that thousands in donations rolled into his campaign coffers around the same time the company benefited from a change in loading zone policy.

Herrera requested a criminal probe following revelations that a manager at GO Lorrie’s allegedly pressured several employees to donate $500 each as a way to skirt contribution limits. The Bay Citizen quoted two of the shuttle company’s drivers as saying they each donated $500 to Lee — the maximum individual contribution allowed in the mayoral race — because the manager promised to reimburse them.

Herrera said if the employees were promised reimbursements for their donations, it’s a clear case of felony or misdemeanor violations. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission has already launched a civil
investigation into the matter and Herrera has asked for additional inquiries by the state Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

However, Gascón also said in the statement that the investigation itself doesn’t necessarily indicate wrongdoing on the part of Lee.

“It is premature to form opinions or rush to judgment until an investigation is complete,” Gascón’s statement says.

Tony Winnicker, Lee’s campaign spokesman, said the money in question — 23 contributions totaling $11,500 — has been returned. He said the campaign plans to fully cooperate with the investigation and has “nothing to hide.”

“We don’t believe the campaign is under investigation,” Winnicker said, adding that the contributors bear primary responsibility in the debacle. “We don’t believe we’re the target.”

Winnicker said the money was returned hours before The Bay Citizen published the report because the campaign had concerns over the actual source of the money from one of the donors.

The district attorney is in the “information-gathering phase” and isn’t sure how long the investigation will last, according to the office.

“We have every confidence that the district attorney will get to the bottom of this,” said Matt Dorsey, a campaign spokesman for Herrera.

As to whether the matter will be resolved before the Nov. 8 election, Dorsey said, “That’s not the point here.”

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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