Sutton did not return our calls for comment, but Newsom's campaign manager then and now, Eric Jaye, told us, "I'm empathetic to [the Gonzalez campaign]. I'm sure they weren't intentional errors."
He added that just because the Ethics Commission didn't investigate the Newsom campaign after the election doesn't mean the mayor got a free ride. "I feel like everything we do is audited and scrutinized," Jaye said, noting that the campaign was fined $2,500 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission during the race for an illegal mailer.
Still, even if the commission won't disclose ongoing investigations, as far as the public knows right now, the Ethics Commission has repeatedly ignored problems with the 2003 Newsom campaign and others managed by Sutton. Consider:
•Several entities affiliated with a real estate outfit called Olympic View Realty made a total of $14,000 in contributions to the Newsom campaign, but filings didn't reflect the otherwise clear association. "Newsom's failure to report correct cumulative-to-date amounts is an ongoing violation of state law," Luby wrote in the aforementioned memo.
•The Newsom campaign's $600,000 in postelection debt wasn't paid off completely until late last year, much of it being carried by Jaye's consulting firm and Sutton. Former Ethics staffer and commissioner Joe Lynn believes that could amount to an unreported loan to the campaign. "If Ethics was doing its job, it would investigate Newsom's use of accrued debt," Lynn told us.
•The Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco — a key Newsom supporter — urged members in December 2003 to make unlimited donations to Newsom's inaugural committee that would also be used, it said, to help cover "transition activities," which should legally be subject to contribution limits. But Ethics, as far as we can tell, never probed whether inaugural committee funds were used inappropriately for the new mayor's transition to room 200.
•Newsom may have collected contributions exceeding the legal limit. During runoff elections, candidates are allowed to accept additional contributions from individual donors who have otherwise reached the maximum of $500. The total then permitted would be $750, which can be used to cover debt from the general election. As soon as general-election debt is retired, however, the candidate can no longer take advantage of the increased limit. But as far as the public can tell, there was no analysis conducted by Ethics to determine if Newsom's campaign continued to collect $750 checks after having paid down its general-election debt.
St. Croix said most pending enforcement cases, more than ever before, were initiated by staff rather than complainants and the ideal scenario would be to emphasize aggressive earlier sweeps of all the campaigns. But unfortunately, he said, "we're far away from that."*