Money and politics - Page 2

Corporations buy influence using big donations and sneaky tactics

The committee has made independent expenditures opposing Proposition E, a charter amendment that would require the mayor to make monthly appearances before the board, something voters approved last year as an advisory measure. According to Newsom spokesperson Nathan Ballard, defeating that measure is the mayor's top priority this election.

"I think he's focused on his own race and also Question Time. There's where he's spending his resources," Ballard said when asked why Newsom isn't campaigning or fundraising for the Yes on A and No on H campaigns, even though he supports those positions.

The 21st Century Committee has also made independent expenditures in support of Proposition C (which would require public hearings for measures that the board or the mayor places on the ballot), Proposition H (see "Transit or Traffic," page 18), Proposition I (which would establish an Office of Small Business), and Proposition J (Newsom's wireless Internet advisory measure).

Each of these ballot measures has a committee dedicated to raising funds, but as of Oct. 25, only the Small Business Campaign (Yes on C) appeared to have no outstanding debts, or accrued funds, as they are called in campaign finance circles. Maybe that's because the Small Business Campaign got $10,000 from the 21st Century Committee, $5,000 from PG&E, $2,500 from AT&T, $8,500 from the SF Small Business Advocates, and $1,000 from the Building Owners and Manufacturers Association of San Francisco's political action committee.

Yes on C also got a $7,500 contribution from the Committee on Jobs Government Reform Fund, which has ties to Clear Channel, the MTA, and efforts to influence local transportation policy. Records show that on Nov. 4, 2005 — just before the election — the Committee on Jobs Government Reform Fund reported a $6,900 "loan" for radio airtime and production costs from Clear Channel to help defeat a measure that would have split the MTA appointments between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

Fast-forward to Oct. 3 of this year, when the Committee on Jobs, which reported its "loan" as accrued funds for almost two years, reported that this debt has now been forgiven. Which is odd, given that, as of Oct. 25, the Committee on Jobs had a cash balance of $778,000 — and had just received $35,000 from financier and Committee on Jobs board member Warren Hellman, $35,000 from AT&T, and $50,000 from the Charles Schwab Corp.

Equally interesting is the fact that the day after the Oct. 25 preelection filing deadline, the Committee on Jobs gave $25,000 to the Sutton-controlled No on E: Let's Really Work Together Coalition. Such large late contributions require a notice to Ethics that can often escape notice by the media and voters.

The donation perhaps went to help balance the committee's books; despite receiving $85,084 in monetary contributions, including $10,000 from attorney Joe Cotchett and society maven Dede Wilsey, No on E spent $110,244 before Oct. 25, leaving it with $26,610 in accrued debt.

No on E isn't the only Sutton-controlled committee whose spending has outpaced donations received: as of Oct. 25 the Yes on H–No on A pro-parking committee and Newsom's WiFi for All, Yes on J committee, not to mention the Gavin Newsom for Mayor campaign, were all registering large amounts of accrued debt.

Having these debts isn't illegal. And it's not unusual for a campaign to have a pile of unpaid bills at the time of its last preelection finance filing. But as Ethics Commission director John St. Croix told the Guardian, accrued funds "shouldn't be used to hide who your contributors are. The idea of disclosure is to let voters know ahead of elections who is trying to influence their vote."

St. Croix points to the fact that committees are required to make reports every 24 hours in the 16 days before an election "so you know what they are spending on....