SF supes' rejection of campaign-cash bill legally dumb 

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, which includes seven law school graduates, rejected a bill that would have brought The City’s public financing laws for local candidates into compliance with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. (Courtesy photo) - SAN FRANCISCO'S BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, WHICH INCLUDES SEVEN LAW SCHOOL GRADUATES, REJECTED A BILL THAT WOULD HAVE BROUGHT THE CITY’S PUBLIC FINANCING LAWS FOR LOCAL CANDIDATES INTO COMPLIANCE WITH A RECENT U.S. SUPREME COURT DECISION. (COURTES
  • San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, which includes seven law school graduates, rejected a bill that would have brought The City’s public financing laws for local candidates into compliance with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. (Courtes
  • San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, which includes seven law school graduates, rejected a bill that would have brought The City’s public financing laws for local candidates into compliance with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. (Courtesy photo)

‘You would think people who are trained in the legal profession would understand the implications and the importance of a decision from the United States Supreme Court,” Supervisor Malia Cohen said at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Shortly thereafter, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which includes seven law school graduates, rejected a bill that would have brought The City’s public financing laws for local candidates into compliance with a recent United States Supreme Court decision.

The bill needed eight votes and only received six, with supervisors John Avalos, Eric Mar, Jane Kim, Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos voting against the law. (Mar, Kim and Campos each went to law school, for those of you keeping track.)

In the case of McComish v. Bennett, the Supreme Court ruled that making funding for a publicly financed candidate contingent on how much money is spent trying to defeat the candidate or elect another candidate is

a violation of free speech. The theory goes that if giving money to my favorite candidate means more public financing for the candidate I don’t like, I will be less likely to give money to my favorite candidate, which chills my free speech. Agree or disagree, but this kind of “opposition matching” is officially a no-no.

The decision led supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell (also both attorneys) to introduce the legislation that was defeated last Tuesday. It would have removed the “opposition matching” element from our city’s public financing laws so we could avoid being sued and having to pay attorney’s fees.

As Cohen said, “I find it frustrating and very disingenuous that we have members on the board who don’t mind spending taxpayers’ money to make a point.”

So, why did six members of the board reject this simple legislative fix?

Because they want to couple the removal of “opposition matching” with raising the cap on public funding for supervisorial candidates. Yes, you read that correctly. “Give us more money or we’ll let you get sued.”

Kim is introducing legislation that will contain the same provision as Farrell and Elsbernd’s legislation, but will also allow supervisorial candidates to receive more matching funds. Her bill will require a budget analyst report and has to go through the Ethics Commission, a process that will take four to six weeks at best. In the meantime, the courthouse and The City’s pocketbook are open and unguarded.

Farrell admonished his colleagues to pass the bill that was before them and make other changes to the public financing system separately.

Kim and her supporters refused. Admitting that the Arizona case was not an issue “that we had been paying attention to,” and she was “unprepared” for the Supreme Court’s ruling, Kim said that, “This is about style. In my office, when we draft legislation we do a lot of outreach to the communities.”

Now, it’s been a few years since I took the California bar exam, but I’m fairly sure that the “I know our law is unconstitutional, but we were having community meetings while it sat on the books” defense wasn’t on it.

Beyond the issue of conflating two separate problems of legal compliance and general public finance reform is the glaring ridiculousness of making a compliance issue contingent on increasing the cap for supervisors’ races. Warned Farrell, “that is the most self-
interested vote we can have. We are really going to degrade the reputation of this board.”

For the record, Avalos, Campos and Mar are all running for re-election next year and voted against Farrell’s legislation.

As Cohen said on this issue of self-serving hostage-taking, “I think it’s just absolutely deplorable.”


Mayoral candidates’ sparring spokesmen are really good friends ... for now

Blame ranked-choice voting, blame public financing, blame it on Rio, but for whatever reason our mayoral candidates have been coached into insufferable blandness by their handlers. Luckily there are still a few people who are given the free rein to delight us all with tough talk and witty barbs:
campaign spokesmen.

The two most frequently quoted are Matt Dorsey, spokesman for Dennis Herrera, and Tony Winnicker, spokesman for Ed Lee. Their jobs require lobbing verbal grenades at each other, but did you know that the two are friends in “real life”?

Dorsey and Winnicker met in 1993, when they were both working in Washington, D.C., for the Clinton administration. According to Dorsey, “Tony is a dear friend and a real pro.” And said Winnicker, “I crashed on Matt’s couch for a month when I first moved here.” You wouldn’t know it from exchanges like these: 

On the Ron Conway connection to Ed Lee:

Dorsey: “The ad is making the point that Republicans are among the coalition of special interests and others supporting Ed Lee for mayor.”

Winnicker: (Calling Herrera a hypocrite for accepting money from Conway as well.) “Is there anything or anyone that Dennis Herrera won’t abandon for his own political gain?”

About Lee’s 17-point jobs plan:

Dorsey: “We’re actually flattered by Ed Lee’s plagiarism. Because up until now, he’s only been claiming credit for Gavin Newsom’s work.”

Winnicker: “This is a ridiculous and absurd distraction, yet again, from Dennis Herrera’s campaign, although we are glad for the debate to finally be about jobs. Like any mayor, he or she benefits from the work of mayors that have come before.”

Dorsey explained, “I think we’re both having a lot of fun in our current roles — even if it’s sometimes at the expense of our respective bosses.”

Added Winnicker, “It’s not personal. Matt is great and I look forward to sitting down to dinner together when this is all over.”

Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

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Melissa Griffin

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