Supervisors approve campaign finance reforms

Board moves to tighten loopholes and increase public financing

On Nov. 6, while voters were casting their ballots, Sup. Chris Daly and a veto-proof supermajority of the Board of Supervisors approved four ordinances that seek to tighten loopholes in campaign finance law and increase the public financing that will be available to candidates running for at least six openings on the board in 2008.

"The impact of these changes is going to have significant reverberations," Daly told the Guardian. "If these changes had been in place during the 2006 election race, I would have had $200,000 more in public money available during my reelection race. And that's always helpful. You can always influence an election with that kind of money."

As of 2008, circulators of initiative, recall, and referendum petitions will be required to display a badge stating whether they are volunteers or paid and to disclose on request the names of the proponents of the petition.

Also beginning in 2008, independent expenditure committees that pay for mass mailings to support or oppose candidates for city elective office will be required to file campaign disclosure reports with the Ethics Commission, as will those conducting or paying for push polls, which deceptively try to influence voters under the guise of gathering information. Push poll workers will also have to disclose their sponsor to those they call.

Equally significant for the 2008 election is the fact that the expenditure ceiling for supervisorial candidates receiving partial public financing will be raised to $140,000. Daly argued the current bar of $86,000 is on the "low side of the political spending cycle."

The new limits will allow serious candidates to have a budget of about $200,000, which, Daly said, "more accurately reflects the cost of running a significant campaign.... As we've just seen from the mayor's race, it's not just any candidate that can get partial public financing."

With the progressive balance of power on the board at stake in next year's supervisorial races, it wasn't surprising that Mayor Gavin Newsom's top field marshal on the board, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, argued against raising the cap, claiming it would be "inappropriate" and "unethical" to do so given that three current supervisors could potentially benefit next year. Elsbernd suggested delaying such a raise until 2010.

Board president Aaron Peskin countered that "if this is good public policy, it should be passed on its own merits. At any time, members can be up for reelection, but actually the vast majority [of supervisors] are termed out."

In November 2008, Sups. Peskin, Jake McGoldrick, Tom Ammiano, and Geraldo Sandoval will be termed out, while Elsbernd and Ross Mirkarimi will be up for reelection. The election to replace suspended Sup. Ed Jew will also likely be held next year, depending on when and if he is permanently removed for his various ethical problems.

"It's fair to say that partial public financing has severe limitations," Daly added, citing his 2006 reelection race, in which independent expenditure committees with ties to his challenger, Newsom ally Rob Black, spent "gobs of money" but didn't declare them until the last minute, thus tricking Daly into limiting his expenditures to $86,000.

Daly said it doesn't make sense "to subject dozens to a program that doesn't work and has flaws because we fear three individuals may gain." But, he said, it is good for "three individuals to run with public financing on why they disagree with the incumbent, Sup. Sean Elsbernd's, record. This is not necessarily good for incumbents, but I do think it's good for democracy."