Watchdogs Call for Criminal Investigation into Illegal Anti-Daly Spending

by Joe Lynn on October 31, 2006

Five longtime good government watchdogs have called for a criminal investigation of the illegal spending that has flooded the D6 Supervisorial race. The Executive Director of the Ethics Commission recently reviewed this unreported spending for hit pieces attacking Supervisor Chris Daly. He determined that it was sufficient to cause him to lift the expenditure ceilings in the race. Big money has been caught trying to steal an election. The call comes from four former Ethics Commissioners, two of whom served as Ethics Chair, one of whom had been the City’s Campaign Finance Officer, and Charlie Marsteller, the former coordinator of San Francisco Common Cause.

Media reports in the Chronicle, the Guardian, and the Weekly, may have left the public with the impression that the case involves nothing more serious than failing to file forms. The real cause for concern is that it looks like big money was trying to steal the election. That is why Bob Planthold, Chair of the Ethics Commission (2003-2004) [and former Chair of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force], Paul Melbostad, Chair of the Ethics Commission (2002-2003), Bob Dockendorff, Ethics Commissioner (1996-2002) have joined me and Charley Marsteller in calling for the District Attorney to act now.

The same dirty trick was played against Jeff Adachi in the 2001 election. It almost worked back then. Jeff Adachi, like Chris Daly, had promised to abide by the expenditure ceiling that limits the amount of money a candidate will legally spend. The ceiling is supposed to be lifted if outside parties spend more than the ceiling, but the old management at Ethics did nothing.

Adachi was faced with a Hobson’s choice. He was hamstrung by his spending promise. If he honored it and kept to the spending ceiling, he would get battered. If he broke it, he would be labeled unethical. He stood by his promise and took the battering.

He came within inches of breaking his promise and responding. If he had done so, many observers believe he would have lost the race. But the old management at Ethics did nothing and let the bad guys off the hook.

So this year, big money thought they could get away with the same play again. We don¹t know yet how much they spent to batter Daly.

The Ethics Commission has already identified tens of thousands of dollars that were not reported as required. However, in the absence of the required reports, it took vital weeks for Ethics to establish that fact, weeks during which Daly had to withstand vicious attacks without responding.. Instead, Daly held to his promise to limit his campaign spending, and polls tell us now he got battered big time.

When new management at Ethics finished its investigation into the spending, it reversed the old precedent and blew the whistle, but that may have been too late. We won¹t know until election day if the scheme worked. But even if Daly is re-elected, trying to steal an election is a crime.

The watchdogs call on voters to demand that San Francisco committees disgorge any contributions from these tainted interests until they explain their involvement. That is in addition to calling for a criminal investigation of these events.

The problem is that news reports now implicate District Attorney Kamala Harris’ lawyer, Jim Sutton, in the District 6 expenditures. DA Harris may be conflicted out.

Crimes like this are difficult to investigate when the trail runs cold. Asking a vendor a question about the timing of an order can get answers now. Asking the same question two months from now won’t get any answer at all. The investigation needs to start now.

Joe Lynn was San Francisco Campaign Finance Officer (1998-2003) and Ethics Commissioner (2003-2006)

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