Cash not care

Downtown groups are spending big money and making telling alliances in this election

Downtown's money has filled local mailboxes with reams of campaign propaganda

With the general election just days away, campaign disclosure reports show that downtown interests are spending huge amounts of money to create a more conservative San Francisco Board of Supervisors and to pass Proposition B, Public Defender Jeff Adachi's effort to make city workers pay more for their pensions and health insurance.

Much of the spending is coming from sources hostile to programs designed to protect tenants in the city, including rent control and limits on the conversion on rental housing units to condominiums. An ideological flip of the board, which currently has a progressive majority, could also have big implications on who becomes the next mayor if Gavin Newsom wins his race for lieutenant governor.

At press time, downtown groups were far outspending their progressive counterparts through a series of independent expenditure committees, most of which are controlled by notorious local campaign attorney Jim Sutton (see "The political puppeteer," 2/4/04) in support of supervisorial candidates Mark Farrell in District 2, Theresa Sparks in District 6, Scott Wiener in District 8, and Steve Moss in District 10.

Prop. B has also been a big recipient of downtown's cash, although labor groups have pushed back strongly with their own spending to try to kill the measure, which is their main target in this election.

But the biggest spender in this election appears to be Thomas J. Coates, 56, a major investor in apartments and mobile homes and a demonstrated enemy of rent control. He alarmed progressive groups by giving at least $250,000 to groups that support Farrell, Sparks, Wiener, Moss, and Prop. G, legislation that Sup. Sean Elsbernd placed on the ballot to cut transit operator wages and change Muni work rules.

Although Coates declines to identify with a political party on his voter registration, he donated $2,000 to President George W. Bush in 2004. More significantly, he was the biggest individual donor in California's November 2008 election, when he contributed $1 million to Prop. 98, which sought to repeal rent control in California and limit the government's right to acquire private property by eminent domain.

Coates, who is also a yachting enthusiast and sits on San Francisco's America's Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC), donated $100,000 on Oct. 20 for Farrell, $45,000 for Sparks, $45,000 for Moss, and $10,000 for Wiener through third-party independent expenditure committees such as the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth.