Legal questions overshadow an Ed Lee mayoral run 

If Mayor Ed Lee decides to change his mind and run for mayor, it would unleash a torrent of questions about the legality of a campaign now encouraging him to run.

With less than two weeks left for Lee to officially put his name on the ballot, criticism has rained on a political committee, Progress For All, for refusing to file as a campaign specifically meant to get Lee to run for mayor. And if Lee does enter the race as the immediate front-runner, candidates who have already accepted public financing would have to repay the money if they drop out of the race.

Progress For All consultant Enrique Pearce insists that the Run, Ed, Run campaign has followed all existing ethics laws to the letter. Because Lee has not officially entered the race for mayor, the campaign does not need to declare that it is supporting a candidate.

“There is no candidate,” Pearce said.

The campaign has revealed that it has spent $59,450 in less than two months on expenses such as campaign signs, Internet advertising and rent for a campaign headquarters, he said. Filings that reveal who donated that money are due Monday.

But several mayoral campaigns and former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin are questioning the legality of the campaign with Lee poised to announce a run.

There are two significant consequences from Progress For All’s current status as a general purpose committee, Peskin wrote in a complaint to the Ethics Commission. First, funds spent toward a Lee run should be considered when determining public financing for all candidates in the race. Second, the committee should have been reporting donations of $5,000 or more within 24 hours, which it has not, Peskin wrote.

“I find it deeply troubling that Progress For All has not taken any of these steps, that it has ignored [Ethics Commission Director John] St. Croix’s request to comply with the law and that it continues to operate in the shadows,” Peskin said.

The Ethics Commission will be holding a meeting on Aug. 8 to discuss whether laws need to be clarified or changed to prevent a precedent being set.

“We’re going to discuss Progress For All as a matter of policy because they’ve gotten themselves in uncharted territory,” St. Croix said.

If Lee enters the race, some of the other nine candidates might consider dropping out. But that would come at a great cost. If a candidate drops out of a race after receiving public financing, they have to repay all of that money, St. Croix said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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