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The Finish Line on the Election Money Race

by Oliver Luby on 02/20/2012

in Paper Trails

The November election to fill three offices — mayor, district attorney and sheriff — and to pitch views on 8 ballot measures pulled in nearly $23 million from contributors. That’s half again as much as the so-far unmet pledge for 2011 fundraising for the America’s Cup which supporters claim will bring $1 billion in benefits to the region.

Three out of every four dollars spent were aimed at just one goal — supporting or opposing candidates for the three open offices.

Voters, however, did not have timely information on the donors of millions of dollars. In some cases, there was no disclosure of donors and the amounts they contributed until almost two months after the election.

Disclosure is not keeping pace with spending to influence voters under rules that keep the public in the dark for the final 16 days before the election unless contributions are $1,000 or more. With a candidate contribution ceiling of $500, this effectively means that no contributions to candidates in the final weeks before the election are disclosed to voters.

In other findings, the debate over public financing tells only one side of how candidates are supported. As Ed Lee sought to win a four-year term, he declined any public financing. However, with the final tally possible after the January 31, 2012 filing deadline, it is clear that the independent expenditures made on his behalf outstripped what he might have received in public dollars.

The top public dollars went to Dennis Herrera, who received $720,590.

Special interest, third-party contributions to Ed Lee was double that amount, standing at $1,409,613, nearly equal to the $1.5 million raised by his own committee.

In this post-election wrap-up, CitiReport offers a detailed analysis of election contributions, their sources, and what we didn’t know.

By Oliver Luby

Data sources: San Francisco Ethics Commission, San Francisco Department of Elections, & Political Reform Division of the California Secretary of State’s office.

Highlights of this article:

  1. Third Party “soft money” independent spending on the election:$3.6 million (see Section 1). Most of the Third Party independent spending was on the Mayor’s race; the non-Mayor candidate who received the most support from independent spending – Chris Cunnie for Sheriff, $246,000.
  2. At $3,280,000 in total combined financing to elect Ed Lee for Mayor, his cost per vote received was $39 (final ranked votes) – the Mayor candidates with lower costs per vote: John Avalos, Jeff Adachi, & Terry Baum (see Section 2)
  3. Phil Ting for Mayor’s spectacularly high cost per vote: $493 each! (see Section 2);
  4. During the six weeks prior to the November 8 election, contribution fundraising peaked; though campaigns received nearly $7 million during that period, disclosure law did not ensure that all of it was publicly reported before the election (Section 3);
  5. Mayor Lee’s committee received the most contributions in excess of the $1,500 cumulative limit, at least $7,725 – the amount is subject to forfeiture to the City and County. Contributors who exceeded the legal limits include Maurice Kanbar, Wade Randlett, Barbara Kaufman, Michael Antonini, Mary Jung, and Sam Singer – (see Section 4)
  6. Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign committee is more than $275,000 over budget, the highest amount as of the end of 2011 (see Section 5);
  7. There has been no public disclosure of more than 1 in 10 contributors that Mayor Lee will use to pay his 2011 expenses; for District Attorney George Gascon, it is more than 1 in 5 (see Section 5);
  8. Some legislative remedies for campaign finance loopholes (see ends of Sections 3, 4, and 5).

This article about the financing of San Francisco’s 2011 election campaigns follows in the footsteps of various articles authored by myself and Marc Salomon (including August Part 1, August Part 2 and our October piece as well as my November Fog City Journal article.  The present article provides five sections (see links to PDFs below) analyzing the election’s campaign financing[i] following the recent release of the end-of-the-year campaign reports.

(All “Section” headers are live links to the detailed report on that topic)

Section 1 – Total Receipts, Public Financing & Independent Spending for Candidates & Ballot Measure Committees

Summary: Which candidates and ballot campaigns received the most money?  Which contests were affected by third party independent spending and which groups did the spending?  This section provides cumulative-to-date totals of the most critical finance data regarding SF’s November 2011 election.

Section 2 – Votes per Dollar

Summary: This section compares campaign spending with the San Francisco public’s votes cast.

Section 3 – When Donors Gave in 2011 & Why Disclosure Laws Aren’t Keeping Up

Summary: This section examines when campaigns received contributions in 2011.  Loopholes are identified in the requirements for contribution disclosure in advance of the election.

Section 4 – Overall Contribution Limit Violations

Summary: For the 2011 election, 55 donors gave more than $29,000 in excess of San Francisco’s $1,500 cumulative contribution limit, money that is now legally forfeitable to the City & County.  The SF Ethics Commission does not enforce this law.  Supervisor Scott Wiener wants to help them get rid of it.

Section 5 – Insolvent Committees

Summary: In the 2011 election, several campaigns spent more money than they took in, meaning they are being kept afloat by going into debt.  The public was not informed before the election of which donors will pay these campaign debts.  This section identifies the campaigns that are in the red.

Disclosure: Oliver Luby contributed $25 and $15, respectively, to the 2011 campaigns of John Avalos for Mayor and Ross Mirkarimi for Sheriff.  Mr. Luby volunteered for both the Avalos campaign and the Friends of Ethics ballot measure committee opposed to Measures E and F; CitiReport Editor Larry Bush was also involved in the committee and contributed $4,499.66 to it, $500 to Ross Mirkarimi for Sheriff and $99 to Avalos for Mayor.  This article was written in the author’s capacity as a longtime advocate for campaign finance disclosure, and the work was independent of any election campaign.

[i] In general, the research for this article covered (1) all significant candidates, with “significant” defined here as those candidates raising $15,000 or more, and (2) all Ballot Measure Committees.  For the extent of coverage of independent spending or major donors, please see Section 1 of this article.

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