Pension reform: Which campaign gets to claim grassroots support? 

Columnists have different approaches to the Comments Section. Personally, I like to read them and take the thoughtful messages seriously. And that’s why I’m dedicating this blog entry to a commenter on my article yesterday about the campaign to defeat Proposition D and its unfounded accusation that the two main backers of D are “tea party billionaires.”

In response to my article, someone (I don’t know his or her identity) wrote:

Ok, let's look at both side and who is funding them. Prop C is funded and supported by a large variety of different groups including labor, the business community (including Warren Hellmen). Prop D is entirely funded by two billionaries who are ideologically opposed to labor unions and public workers (both Hume and Mortiz have publically stated this).

Something about that accusation made me go digging and what I found indicates the opposite: Prop D is funded by many individuals, and Prop C is entirely funded by unions, Warren Hellman and Ron Conway (hardly “the business community”). In fact, Prop C has raised more campaign money than Prop D. All of which belies any David versus Billionaire Goliath narrative.

The following data is publicly available at the San Francisco Ethics Commission website. The time period reflected here is January 1, 2011 through September 24, 2011.


Pro Prop D

Pro Prop C

Pro Prop C

Name of Organization

Yes on Proposition D

Standing Up for Working Families

San Franciscans United for Pension Reform

Total Cash Raised




Total Individual Contributions over $25,000



Mike Moritz and George Hume with $250,000 apiece; $25,000 from Franklin Johnson






$100k from Warren Hellman, $25k from Ron Conway

Total Individual Contributions Under $25,000



Of those, 37 are for less than $300. 12 were from retirees. 1 was from an unemployed person.



Total Contributions from Unions


$164,400, plus $28,000 from Local 798 to Pac defeat Prop B last year

$185,000 (via Standing Up for Working Families)

Total Campaign War Chest

$636,734 minus $346,533.40 in petition and filing costs equals $290,200.60

Standing Up transferred most of its collected contributions to San Franciscans United, so the total is $317,400.

Cash On Hand





You may believe, as the commenter did, that “There is [] a really big difference between labor unions, representing tens of thousands of members, with democratically elected leadership donating money vs individual billionaires giving an equal or greater amount to the other side. The labor unions represent a much more diverse set of donors than the handful of millionaires/billionaires backing Adachi.”

Of course, I voted for Gavin Newsom in 2007, but that doesn’t mean he always represented my interests so I’m not sure I buy the “democratically elected union leadership” as the vessel of the thoughts of their members. Maybe the other candidates were naked cab drivers in those elections, too. But I see the commenter’s point.

And while Prop D did get $525,000 in big fat checks, $346,533.40 of that was spent on getting the dang thing on the ballot, meaning that the campaign for Prop D only gets to use $178,466.60 from the “handful of millionaires/billionaires.” Which isn’t that far away from the $125,000 that Prop C got from Hellman and Conway.

Whether this means a person should vote for C or D isn’t really the point. The rhetoric about billionaires is a distraction from the merits of each proposal.

Again, check the ethics commission filings if you want more information about the source of funding for each measure.  But more importantly, check out the measures themselves.

And many thanks to the commenter who inspired me to get down and nerdy.

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Melissa Griffin

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