San Francisco voters could rule on public campaign cash 

Voters could decide in June whether to modify San Francisco’s public campaign financing program to ensure it is legal and to reduce the likelihood of “zombie candidates.”

A June ballot measure was introduced Tuesday by Supervisor David Campos that would make it more difficult for candidates running for mayor or for a Board of Supervisors seat to qualify for public matching funds.

The measure would also place a hard cap on how much publicly financed candidates can spend, in order to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

During the November mayoral race, there was criticism about candidates who stayed in the race despite lacking traction and ultimately received very few votes. These candidates were dubbed zombie candidates, and they couldn’t drop out of the race without having to pay back the public dollars they received.

Nine candidates received a total of $4.7 million in public funds during the 2011 mayoral campaign.

Under the proposed ordinance, mayoral candidates could receive up to $950,000 in public funds and spend up to $1,975,000. Meanwhile, a candidate for supervisor could receive up to $155,000 in public funds, up from the existing $89,000, and spend no more than $250,000. In both cases, it would take raising more money from more people to qualify for matching funds than under the current rules.

Supervisor John Avalos, who co-sponsored the measure along with Supervisor Jane Kim, said the existing electoral system needs some changes, but overall it “fundamentally works.”

Campos’ ballot measure eliminates a trigger in which publicly financed candidates could receive more public funds and spend more than the cap if third-party spending exceeds the limits. This kind of trigger was ruled a violation of the First Amendment in a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision about a similar program in Arizona.

It would take six votes by the board to place the measure on the June ballot.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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