District 3 Race Most Expensive—But Soft Money Will Flourish in D1 and D11

by Paul Hogarth on October 9, 2008

Candidates for the SF Board of Supervisors filed their statements last week—and there’s no doubt which race is the most expensive (at least in direct contributions.) The top four candidates in District 3 raised over $275,000 this quarter—compared with $106,000 for District 11, $67,500 for District 1 and $55,000 for District 9. But “soft money” routes—such as Proposition V—will certainly play a role not reflected in these donations. In D3, Joe Alioto Jr. took the lion’s share of landlord and downtown money—with many interesting donors—while Claudine Cheng gave her own campaign $50,000. Denise McCarthy raked in the building trades, while David Chiu kept mining his personal connections. In D1, Sue Lee took money from real estate and business interests—while Eric Mar took checks from various labor unions. In both races, powerful interests are “hedging their bets” by giving to multiple candidates. D11 candidates John Avalos, Ahsha Safai and Randy Knox each raised about $30,000—but Avalos got union and non-profit support, and Safai got real estate money and $19,000 in “unitemized receipts” (which he says were small donations.) Knox raised his funds from attorneys—including $500 from Ellis Act eviction lawyer Andrew Zacks. UPDATE: The Knox campaign has informed me that they returned Zacks’ contribution.

Campaign finance law required candidates to file quarterly reports by September 30th, which are now available for public view. Candidates for Supervisor can collect direct donations of up to $500 per contributor. As I explained yesterday, special interests can still make unlimited independent expenditures (if there’s no coordination)—or in the case of Prop V, give to a ballot measure campaign. But barring this caveat, “hard money” donation reports are still helpful in determining which race has the most money—and who’s funding whom.

District 3: North Beach and Chinatown

And there’s no question that District 3 is the most expensive race in the City. It’s the only race where not all the candidates have complied with the voluntary spending limit, leading to a virtual “arms race” of campaign contributions. Nearly half the money raised by the top four candidates this quarter went to Joe Alioto Jr.—who has replaced Claudine Cheng as the candidate of Downtown and real estate money.

A few weeks ago, landlords feted Alioto with a fundraiser at Trinity Properties—and his new statements reveal the outcome. Eight members of the Sangiacamo family each gave $500 checks to Alioto—as did the SF Apartment Association, the President of West Coast Properties, three members of the Rocca family (who run Seven Hills Properties), and many real estate developers.

Business interests also maxed out on Alioto. Don and Doris Fisher each gave $500, and their son Robert gave $250. Warren Hellman gave $500, as did Jude Laspa—Business Executive of Bechtel. Most surprising was $500 from Gregory Rossmann—a Managing Director of the Carlyle Group, a massive global equity firm. If you recall the film “Fahrenheit 911,” the Carlyle Group has a long affiliation with the Bush family and their business endeavors.

Claudine Cheng, an early recipient of Downtown money, raised $89,000 this quarter—but more than half was out of her own pocket (candidates can give themselves an unlimited amount.) Despite landlords shifting their money to Alioto, Cheng still raised a lot of real estate funds—including $500 from Academy of Art President Elisa Stephens, $500 from Jack Myers of Myers Development, and $500 each from the manager and administrator of the Sam Wong Hotel in Chinatown.

Mining his connections from Washington DC and as a lawyer in California, David Chiu took money from the counsel of the US Senate Banking Committee—and a long slew of attorneys in various sectors. He also got a surprising number of donations from the medical profession (Chiu said his father is a doctor, and he was originally a pre-med student at Harvard.) SEIU United Health Care Workers gave Chiu $500, as did the SF Police Officers Association—who also gave $500 to Alioto and Denise McCarthy.

Rounding out the most expensive race in San Francisco, Denise McCarthy took a lot of $500 checks from various building trades unions—including the Brotherhood of Carpenters, Iron Workers, Operating Engineers, Sheet Metal Workers Union, Elevator Constructors and the Teamsters. These unions tend to be more politically moderate than SEIU, UNITE-HERE and others (the SF Central Labor Council endorsed Chiu.) She also got $500 each from Clint and Janet Reilly, $500 from the owner of Tosca’s bar in North Beach, and a maximum donation from the San Francisco Apartment Association.

District 1: the Richmond

I explained yesterday how powerful interests are using the Proposition V campaign to save JROTC as an indirect means of influencing the District 1 Supervisor. So while the police officers union gives the maximum legal donation of $500 to Sue Lee, they also give $5,000 to the Prop V effort. Nevertheless, Lee still got a lot of $500 checks from the Downtown usual suspects: Pier 39 Limited Partnership, Warren Hellman, developer Ron Kaufmann, California Hospital Association, and various real estate interests.

Her progressive opponent, Eric Mar, got most of his $500 checks from labor unions—such as IBEW Local 6, SEIU United Health Care Workers, and the Transport Workers Union. He also got large contributions from State Senator Carole Migden, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, and current District 1 Supervisor Jake McGoldrick.

The Courts have ruled that campaign money is “free speech”—in part because a donor makes a “political statement” by giving money to a candidate. But it’s often the case at the national level that powerful interests give money to every serious candidate as a means of “hedging their bets.” In the District 1 race, Sue Lee got $500 checks from two real estate partners (Tom Sullivan and Chris Meany)—while Meany also gave $200 to Eric Mar. It’s even more blatant in District 3—where Pier 39 Limited Partnership has now given the maximum legal donation to all the top four candidates in the race.

District 11: the Excelsior

The top three candidates in District 11 each raised approximately $30,000 this quarter—with Julio Ramos getting $15,000 and Myrna Lim has yet to comply with the filing.

John Avalos—a former union organizer, non-profit worker and City Hall aide—raised his money from those sectors. His largest checks came from SEIU Local 1877 and United Health Care Workers, and he got $250 from ex-Board President Angela Alioto.

BOMA Vice President Ken Cleveland, Newsom aide Wade Crowfoot and landlord advocate David Fix all gave to Ahsha Safai. But nearly two-thirds of what he raised this quarter (approximately $19,000) was simply listed as “unitemized.” Safai told me some of that money came from public matching funds—and the rest was from small donations of less than $100 (which he said mostly came from District 11 residents.)

City law doesn’t require these checks to be listed separately on the campaign disclosure forms, as long as the donor doesn’t give the candidate more than $99 during the whole election cycle. But most campaigns—as a simple matter of caution—itemize these contributions anyway, and it makes the fundraising effort look more transparent.

A criminal defense attorney who filed for office on the last day, Randy Knox matched his two major opponents for the fundraising quarter. Most of his checks came from lawyers in that field—as his form practically reads like the staff directory of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. But Knox also took $500 from Andrew Zacks—the notorious landlord attorney who has manipulated the Ellis Act to evict hundreds of low-income tenants.

In this election cycle, only one other Supervisor candidate so far has taken money from Andrew Zacks: District 4’s Ron Dudum, a landlord who strongly opposes rent control. By taking a check from Zacks, Randy Knox will have a very tough time making his case to renters.

UPDATE: Randy Knox’s campaign has informed me that they returned the check from Andrew Zacks. Stay tuned for more developments …

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