Upcoming election tests public financing changes in S.F. 

click to enlarge Board candidates must now raise $10,000 from at least 100 residents to qualify for The City’s public financing program. - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • Board candidates must now raise $10,000 from at least 100 residents to qualify for The City’s public financing program.

Candidates running for a seat on the Board of Supervisors this November are testing the new rules of The City’s public financing program.  

Amid criticism that the program’s old guidelines were overly generous and encouraged candidates to run even if they had no chance of winning, in April the sitting board made it more difficult for candidates to qualify and receive the taxpayer money. Where board candidates once had to collect $5,000 from at least 75 residents in donations of up to $100 to qualify for public funding, they now must raise $10,000 from at least 100 residents.

As of Monday and five candidates in this November’s six races — in Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 — have begun receiving public funds. District 1 candidate David Lee, who is challenging incumbent Eric Mar, has received the most public funding at $126,349, followed by district 7 candidate F.X. Crowley with $98,518.

But the rule change may already have impacted this year’s election. In November 2010, for example, 21 people ran for the District 10 seat. This year, the most candidates competing for a single supervisorial seat are the nine vying to represent District 7.

Not only is it more difficult for board candidates to qualify for the program, but there also is a hard cap on how much public funding a candidate can receive.

This time around, candidates can receive up to $155,000 if they raise $95,000. In the past, board candidates could receive $89,000 in public funds and not spend more than $143,000. But if third-party spending exceeded that spending limit then the candidate could receive more matching public dollars.

Now, if third-party spending breaks the overall spending ceiling — now set at $250,000 — candidates must rely on their own fundraising ability to keep up. In the past, The City would have provided more matching public dollars.

This change, among others, was adopted in the wake of a 2011 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned Arizona’s campaign finance program, finding that tying disbursement of public-finance dollars to third-party spending violated the First Amendment.

It’s unclear at this point if there will be a significant increase in third-party spending with these rule changes. But advocates of public financing, such as Steven Hill, are certainly watching out for that.

“One fear is the independent expenditures will speak louder and longer than candidates themselves and will start defining the candidates,” Hill said.

Third-party spending usually floods the races beginning in October. So far, one such expenditure has been repored. A group backing District 7 candidate Mike Garcia, known as the Coalition of Taxpayers, Residents and the San Francisco Apartment Association, reported spending $11,622 on July 25.


Supervisorial candidates receiving public financing

F.X. Crowley
, District 7, $98,518

Joel Engardio, District 7, $20,000

Mike Garcia, District 7, $20,000

David Lee, District 1, $126,349

Eric Mar, District 1, $20,000

Source: Ethics Commission

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