Mayoral Candidates Score Partial Public Funding
Supervisors approve public funding for mayoral race
February 9, 2006 8:24 PM
SF State student activists scored a major victory on Feb 14. when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 to approve a measure that will provide partial public funding to mayoral candidates for the upcoming 2007 election.
Students from Democracy Matters, the League of Pissed Off Voters and other campus organizations worked closely with the legislation’s authors, Steven Hill and Rob Arnow. They showed their support for the bill by attending city government meetings, making public comments and lobbying Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who represents SF State in District 7.
“It is so amazing to be involved in all the steps,” said Julian McQueen, founder of the SF State chapter of the League of Pissed Off Voters. “In the end, it ended up being pretty simple and the legislation is going to totally transform politics in the city.”
Candidates who take part in the optional program will have a spending cap of approximately $1.38 million and have the potential to receive $850,000 in public funding if they raise $525,000. In order to qualify for matching funds, donations will have to be raised in small amounts and from individual donors.
“What has always distressed us as progressives is the influence of developers over election,” said Amrah Johnson, campaign coordinator for Democracy Matters, and member of numerous other on and off-campus groups. “They have been able to change the face of the city and they pretty much run the elections because they can buy the candidates.”
San Franciscans for Voter Owned Elections point to a number of instances when San Francisco mayors and the mayorally-appointed Redevelopment agency made decisions favoring major campaign donors that cost the city millions. This included an $18 million ‘discount’ given to Chairman of the Gap Don Fisher on a purchase of waterfront land in 1997.
This situation is mirrored in our national government as well and can be seen in the recent campaign finance scandals rocking Congress, said Rob Arnow, campaign coordinator for San Franciscans for Voter Owned Elections.
The ordinance was presented to the Board by District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and benefited from wide bipartisan public support. Political organizations, voter groups and labor representatives all joined together to back this piece of legislation.
“We absolutely believe that big money is destroying our democracy,” said Conny Ford, vice president for political activities for the San Francisco Labor Council, one of the bill’s backers. “Cleaner elections promote a healthy democracy and that’s what labor is all about.”
In 2003, Mayor Gavin Newsom spent a record-breaking $5.7 million. Many fear that the need for massive fund raising efforts doesn’t give candidates enough time to address the issues and makes them beholden to large contributors.
This measure will also encourage more women, minorities and low-income candidates to run for mayor, said Jody Sanford, president of thr League of Women Voters of San Francisco.
Even the two dissenters on the Board of Supervisors, Michela Alioto-Pier representing District 2 and Sean Elsbernd representing District 7, and Mayor Gavin Newsom, agreed that campaign finance reform is important for lessening the influence of big donors. However, they worried that the method and the price of the legislation were flawed.
Elsbernd said that on his list of budget priorities, money for beat cops and fixing streets was more important than public financing for mayoral campaigns.
He added that there may be a conflict of interest in having the Board of Supervisors vote on this proposal when some of them may have aspirations to run for mayor in the future.
“Inevitably what we are doing here is voting to maybe pad our own campaign coffers with tax payer dollars,” said Supervisor Elsbernd.
Supervisor Alioto-Pier voiced similar concerns and suggested that it is the voters who should decide if this is a proper use of $6.5 million, as they did with Proposition O which called for partial public funding for the Board of Supervisors campaigns that passed in 2000.
Supporters of the ordinance were unimpressed by these objections.
“I find that laughable,” said Erika McDonald, spokesperson for the San Francisco Green Party. “It’s not like we the voters vote on every dollar they spend.”
McDonald added that San Francisco has a $5 billion annual budget so $6.5 million over four years, roughly $1.6 million a year, is hardly a massive expenditure.
Many of the supervisors who supported this bill echoed that assertion.
“Democracy is worth the price,” said Supervisor Sophie Maxwell. “People are concerned about this and I think it is important that we take a stand.”
From the Board of Supervisors the ordinance goes to Mayor Newsom’s desk where it will be signed or vetoed and sent back to the supervisors for final approval or tacitly enacted if the Mayor does not sign or veto it within 30 days.
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