San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee climbing out of campaign debt pit 

click to enlarge Mayor Ed Lee, left, has attended about 10 post-election fundraisers aimed at repaying $300,000. - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • Mayor Ed Lee, left, has attended about 10 post-election fundraisers aimed at repaying $300,000.

After coasting to victory in the mayoral race, Ed Lee now faces a new challenge: paying for it.

The mayor must move quickly to cover nearly $300,000 in campaign debt, according to finance filings released Tuesday by The City’s Ethics Commission. The mayor has attended about 10 fundraisers on his behalf since the Nov. 8 election win, according to his campaign manager, Bill Barnes.

“He’s busy being mayor and it’s not the primary focus of his time,” Barnes said of the fundraising. “When he has extra time, he raises money.”

But despite his busy schedule, Lee appears to be finding the time. He is going to Sacramento tonight for a fundraiser hosted in part by Assembly Speaker John Perez, Barnes said.

San Francisco’s campaign ethics rules require candidates to pay off debt within 180 days of incurring it. After extended campaigns such as the recent mayoral race, Barnes said it can be a challenge to find donors who have not hit the $500 legal maximum contribution limit for individual candidates or $1,500 legal maximum for an election cycle.

Supervisor Scott Wiener backed City Attorney Dennis Herrera in the mayoral race, but he was one of the first to step up and help with Lee’s campaign debt during an event in early December. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, who supported state Sen. Leland Yee for mayor, also came forward to assist Lee with a fundraiser in Millbrae earlier this month.

Lee’s campaign eclipsed that of all other opponents in spending a total of nearly $1.9 million in the race. Yet he still has debt despite additional fundraising help from a slew of independent expenditure groups — separate entities that prompted ethics investigations after questionable campaign activities such as alleged mail-ballot fraud conducted at makeshift voting booths in Chinatown.

Progress for All — the group that staged the notorious Run, Ed, Run campaign to encourage Lee to enter the race — also carries more than $30,000 in debt, according to a filing Tuesday.

Contributions to the mayor’s own campaign also drew scrutiny from the District Attorney’s Office last year for allegedly “bundled” sums gathered by donors to skirt the $500 limits. At the time, Lee’s campaign denounced the shady activities and insisted it was the donors and the independent groups — not the campaign — that were under investigation.

Lee’s campaign debt doesn’t reach that of former Mayor Gavin Newsom, who spent a record $5.7 million for his 2003 campaign and ended up having to pay off more than $500,000 after taking office. Barnes noted Lee must pay off his debt without the aid of corporate contributions, which haven’t been allowed in San Francisco political races since 2006. He said despite that, Lee shouldn’t have a hard time finding the money.

“We should be done second quarter of this year,” Barnes said.

Spending spree

Comparison of money raised, spent and carried as debt by Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom:

Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign spending in 2011

$1.6 million raised

$1.9 million spent

$300,000 in debt

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s campaign spending in 2003

$5.2 million raised

$5.7 million spent

$550,000 in debt

Source: San Francisco Ethics Commission

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