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Campaign Notes: Under the Radar Not So Much

by Larry Bush on 10/03/2011

in Merely Rumors

Ed Lee Gives Us the Willies…The September 22 stealth reappointment of Willie Brown’s Executive Director for his Institute (and former top City Hall aide) Eleanor Johns to the Airport Commission signals that Lee is nervous about the Brown connection going into the election. The Airport Commission approves hundreds of millions in contracts, including pending action with the Aris Corporation that has a strong Brown connection.  Aris met with Johns earlier this year to push for the contract, which it lost in 2003 over the issue of favoritism by then-outgoing Mayor Willie Brown. Now it is back for another bite of the apple with a contract that exceeds its earlier $250 million bid for a cargo facility.

Lee’s stealth move included another veteran of the Brown years with the appointment of Kate Favetti to the Civil Service Commission. As Executive Secretary for the Commission when Brown was mayor, she oversaw the commission’s role when Brown created a standing army of special assistants, increasing the budget for them from $15 million to $45 million. It appears another Brown loyalist who worked on Brown’s re-election committee, Lisa Gruwell, whose husband Chris Gruwell heads Platinum Advisors, is permanently off the same commission since her term expired last June. The death of Don Casper at the hands of a hit-and-run driver meant that the Commission dropped to three vacancies, leaving it without a quorum. Lee left two seats still open and without commissioners, so word to the wise is not to miss any meetings if this commission is to function.

Lee’s stealth move included eight other commissioner appointments or reappointments, but none with the heft on contracts that Airport has. That still left several key commissioners in expired seats, with plenty of time to contribute or fundraise for Lee before he decides on letting them keep their seats. At Redevelopment, neither Darshan Singh nor Rosario Anaya, whose terms ended September 3, has been reappointed so far.

Barbara Sklar, a well-known figure, was appointed to the Arts Commission, Kay Gulbengay was reappointed to the Commission on the Status of Women and Angelo King was reappointed to the Environment Commission, and new commissioners Michael Pappas and Sheryl Evans Davis were appointed to the Human Rights Commission. At the Rent Board, Shoba Dandillaya and David Crow were appointed.

It’s the first time in memory going back at least 30 years that the Mayor’s Office has not issued a press release on its appointments or provided a brief bio on who’s who. They also don’t show up on the Mayor’s official web page or on the new interactive database that Lee was tardy implementing.

In his campaign web site, however, Lee claims credit for advancing a new level of transparency on commission vacancies and appointments.

“Whatcha Talkin bout Willis?” Or, for that matter, why does it appear that almost no lobbyists have been talking to Mayor Ed Lee since he moved into Room 200. The Ethics Commission requires lobbyists to report each month their contacts with city officials (word to the wise: Ethics does no enforcement so this information is suspect). In their infinite wisdom, Ethics lists contacts with Hizzoner under three names: Ed Lee, Edwin Lee and Mayor Ed Lee. You have to check all three to get the total, but you still only need two hands and no toes to add them up.

In fact, according to the Ethics filings, after Lee announced he would run for election, there have been no meetings with lobbyists – none in August, none in September. Right, You betcha.

Our City Family At Work…The Sheriff’s election barely registers which makes it all the easier to pull off inside plays since no one is watching. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some heavy lifting going on behind the scenes. Case in point: the Managing Attorneys Association that represents lawyers from the District Attorney, City Attorney, Public Defender and others popped out an endorsement for Chris Cunnie.

That’s notable because, first, they didn’t make endorsements for mayor or district attorney – only sheriff. And second, because Sean Connelly, head of the Managing Attorneys, was the general counsel for the Police Officers Association when Cunnie was President. And third, because the endorsement was made by secret ballot by the board members with no one knowing how the vote went. And finally, because they didn’t invite any other candidates to pitch to them.

Of course, sometimes no publicity is the best publicity of all. Exhibit One: District Attorney George Gascon’s effort to keep from public view the memo about problems in the city’s crime lab that is causing dozens, perhaps hundreds, of cases to be tossed.

Gascon doesn’t have a lot to fear if it is released, since he really had only a tangential role at the time of the problems. But some others (yes, we’re still on the topic of Chris Cunnie) would really, really like this issue to disappear before Election Day. Cunnie, as the Deputy in the DA’s office who was on point to pass along to the public defender’s office any issues affecting the evidence in cases going to trial, so far has kept his name and role from public view. Whether the memo or emails would tell more of the story isn’t known, any more than now-Attorney General Kamala Harris’ role is fully public, but both are well-entrenched members of the City Family and can expect to be treated as such.

There They Go Again…And who asked them, anyway? The “Loopholes R Us” crowd over at Ethics have popped out with new CFRO proposals to make more changes to the city’s laws requiring disclosures of campaign spending and setting limits – and every one of the changes – surprise – provides less timely and specific information for the public. But we’re guessing that campaign attorneys and treasurers and big bucks contributors love these proposals.

Here are a couple of examples: Campaign reporting from third party groups wouldn’t have to be reported until after campaigns already have started. In other words, no reporting on efforts to support a candidate gathering signatures, lining up issue papers, no fundraising efforts, no polling or anything else until 90 days before the election. By then, a great deal has already been set for the upcoming election.

Again: The type size of disclosures would be reduced from 14 points to 10 points as a result of complaints from committee that the disclosures are too big. In short, too easily read. So let’s make them smaller. Candidates themselves would also get to use the smaller type. Great. (has anyone noticed the percent of San Franciscans who are over 60 and who don’t easily read small type? No. I thought not).

Next: Committees and candidates won’t have to disclose their spending as often. Instead of 24-hour reporting in the last 16 days before an election, it drops to once a week for part of that period, then twice a week, until the last three days when it goes back to 24-hour reporting. Ethics justifies this change because committee representatives told them it is “extremely difficult to track spending” every 24 hours. Any guesses they know to the dollar how much is coming in every 24 hours? Well, of course, everything hinges on money coming in, less so for money going out.

More: Some expenses just won’t count. For example, the cost of compliance with the law doesn’t count against the spending limit. This is also known as the Sutton Law Firm Swiss Bank Account provision. So the costs for accounting and legal fees now enter into the strange world of double bookkeeping.

Next: Major Donors can give even more under the new rules. Currently San Francisco caps the amount that a donor can give under a formula setting the limit at $500 times the number of offices on the ballot. So this November there are three offices – mayor, district attorney and sheriff – so the most one can contribute is $1,500. Of course you can give $500 to each of three mayoral candidates and nothing to any other races, or any way you want to arrange it. Under this proposal, you can give to everyone, showering him or her with your love.

More: Supervisor candidates in 2012 will have to raise twice as much money as now to qualify for public financing. Currently candidates must raise $5,000. This would change to $10,000 – and also would require that a candidate face an opponent who has raised $10,000 or otherwise qualified for public financing.

Ethics never claims that any of these proposals have the support of campaign finance experts or those active on behalf of “clean elections” that actually won approval of the city’s laws. Only the “regulated community” is mentioned as urging the changes.

Life could be so easy, not so?

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