Despite Ed Lee, Mayoral Candidates Raise Huge Sums

by Paul Hogarth on August 3, 2011

With campaign finance numbers out for the first half of 2011, much of the media buzz has been around Progress for All – the campaign committee to draft Mayor Ed Lee into the race. And it’s true that with no contribution limits for independent expenditures (whereas contributions to a mayoral candidate are capped at $500), we saw six Chinatown business owners each give $5,000 to the cause. But as the campaign heats up, it’s naïve not to expect more independent expenditures on behalf of candidates who are not called Ed Lee – with donations that will dwarf that amount. If it will be anything like last year, soft money will be funneling various campaigns. In the meantime, “Run Ed Run” has ceased its operation to give the Mayor time to make a decision. So the next logical question is, where did the other mayoral candidates get their money. And, despite it being in chunks of $500 or less, are any of the donors controversial? Beyond Chron has analyzed the Ethics Commission filings for candidates David Chiu, Leland Yee, Dennis Herrera and John Avalos, and some donations raise a few eyebrows.

David Chiu: Personal Connections and Landlord Money:

David Chiu’s campaign was proud to boast that it raised more than any of his rivals for the period between January 1 and June 30, 2011 – with nearly $400,000 in direct donations. Chiu has always been a prodigious fundraiser with a deep personal base to help raise the early “seed” money. His donor list may have a lot of corporate lawyers and other young professionals, but they’re not contributing for an ulterior motive – they are his personal and professional network of friends who have known him for years.

Not surprisingly, Chiu’s list includes people he met in Washington D.C. when he worked on Capitol Hill and co-founded Grassroots Enterprise. Contributors include Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry, and people who work at the Treasury Department, Health and Human Services Department and Homeland Security. And after three years as District 3 Supervisor, Chiu’s race for Mayor has garnered donations from small business owners in his district – such as the owners of Lush Lounge, Vesuvio Café and Hemlock Tavern.

Chiu’s Form 460 for this period was prepared in chronological order – which illustrates how his donor base “evolved” before and after Parkmerced. On May 24, Chiu lost significant support from the tenant community when he cast the deciding vote at the Board of Supervisors to demolish the largest rent-controlled complex in San Francisco. Ever since, Chiu’s donor base for his campaign has increasingly consisted of landlords and real estate interests.

On May 25, Alan and Leslie Cameron of Bay Ship & Yacht Co. each gave him $500 – as did the property manager of the Ferry Building. Chiu had previously taken a $500 check from developer Tom Rocca of Seven Hills Properties – but on June 13, three additional members of the Rocca family gave him $500 each. On June 13, Chiu got “bundled” maximum donations from various employees of Yerba Buena Commons. Two landlord commissioners on the Rent Board (Bart Murphy and David Gruber) contributed on June 28, and on June 23 Chiu got eight donations from TMG Partners. Russell & Dennis Flynn of Flynn Investments gave on June 28, while Dan & Jackie Safier gave on June 29.

Dennis Herrera: Lawyers, Public Figures and Adult Entertainment

Dennis Herrera raised just over $307,000 for this reporting period – after having been the top fundraiser among mayoral candidates in 2010. Not surprisingly, his donor list included lawyers and judges who have worked with him and respect his ten-year record as City Attorney. But he also got $500 checks from director Rob Reiner, former Clinton Cabinet member Federico Peña, the state director of NARAL, and officials from the Firefighters Union.

But it was the $500 contributions he got from adult entertainment venues that may raise the most eyebrows. Such donations to Herrera’s campaign included Déjà Vu L.L.C., Market Street Cinemas, the Gold Club, SFBSC Management (which runs Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, Broadway Showgirls Cabaret, Centerfolds) and Garden of Eden. Granted, Herrera is not the first local politician to receive such donations – and he also got a $500 check from the SF Late Night Coalition, a group that advocates for entertainment venues. My guess is that’s how he got the donations.

Leland Yee: Traumatologists, Dry Cleaners and Quickly Tapioca.

Leland Yee raised over $230,000 this period – with large portions from Chinese donors. But as I reported six months ago, Yee’s contributors represent the more conservative elements of San Francisco’s Chinese community. Many of them own businesses or property in the City, but actually live in suburbs like Millbrae or Burlingame. One Yee donor who jumped out at me in this report was Jeff Woo – a colorful landlord attorney who promotes his business on cheap TV commercials with the tag-line “rent control is not a life sentence.”

Yee also got many donations from traumatologists – i.e., traditional Chinese medical practitioners. At least 26 contributors in this period put down “traumatologist” as their profession – and while most are based in San Francisco, some are in places like Fremont or Castro Valley. As a State Senator, Leland Yee introduced SB 628 in the 2011 session – which would have required the California Acupuncture Board to establish criteria for the certification of traumatologists. Undoubtedly, Yee has cultivated this community.

Another prominent pattern among Yee’s donors is the number of dry-cleaning businesses – many of which are not based in San Francisco. While it’s common for business owners to donate to a candidate, they often do so in their personal capacity. Here, Yee received at least 21 checks from the corporate account of places like Wardrobe Cleaners in San Mateo, One Hour Dry Cleaners in San Bruno, Best Cleaners in Concord or Monterey Cleaners in San Francisco. Yee has cultivated this constituency for years – having argued their case against new environmental regulations.

Other notable $500 contributions to Leland Yee during this period include the Chief of Staff to Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the San Jose Cannabis Buyers Collective – and Tony Ho, who owns the Quickly Tapioca on Irving Street that led to Ed Jew’s dramatic downfall.

John Avalos: Progressives Fund the Campaign

Yesterday’s Chronicle blundered when they reported that John Avalos had less than $500 in “cash-on-hand.” Turns out the reporter was looking at an Ethics Commission filing for Avalos’ Supervisor race (oops!) – when his mayoral campaign has approximately $100,000. Avalos raised $86,882 for this period – and received $50,000 in public matching funds.

Avalos’ donor list reflects much of the same contributors who usually give to progressive races – i.e., union organizers, non-profit employees, elected officials and past candidates. Well known activists Tony Kelly, Dean Preston, James Tracy, Gordon Mar, N’Tanya Lee, Rafael Mandelman and Margaret Brodkin have all contributed. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, and Supervisors Eric Mar, David Campos and Ross Mirkarimi wrote checks – as have ex-Supervisor Jake McGoldrick and former District Attorney Terrence Hallinan.

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