Filing fees and public financing as clues to 2010 supervisor races

Malia Cohen (right) and Steve Moss (left) lead D. 10 pack in terms of public funds. Moss leads D. 10 packs' signatures-in-lieu.
Moss and Cohen joined D. 10 candidates (not pictured) Kristine Enea, Nyese Joshua, Stephen Weber, Eric Smith and Lynette Sweet at Potrero Hill Democratic Club

For months now--and in a few cases, over a year- a bunch of dedicated residents have been campaigning in the hopes of becoming the next supervisor in districts 2,4,6,8 and 10. But now comes the moment of truth:

Between July 12 and August 6, all these potential candidates must file all necessary paperwork and pay all necessary fees to qualify for the November ballot.

And, provided they get enough signatures, they can submit a petition in which each signature represents 50 cents towards offsetting their $500 candidate-filing fee.

These signatures are called signatures-in-lieu (or SIL) and they provide an interesting data point if you are trying to figure out who has community support and/or money.

A spokesperson for the San Francisco Elections Department recently told me that the point of the signature-in-lieu petition is to allow anyone to get on the ballot, regardless of their financial circumstances—provided they have valid support.

“If they were to collect, let’s say, 1,000 valid signatures, then that totally offsets their candidate filing fee,” the Elections spokesperson said. “But if they go over 1,000 signatures, they don’t get extra money back.”

And, as of July 26, Elections started to look at candidates’ SIL petitions to get an idea of who will owe what come Friday, when the filing fees are due. This is done by figuring out of the signatures are valid or not. To be valid, a signature must come from a person who resides in the geographical area that is covered by the race.

So, D. 2 candidates must gather signatures from D2 residents, and so on.

“Let’s say the candidates didn’t want to do all that, they just file and write a check,” the Elections spokesperson said. “But they must collect at least 20 valid nominating signatures.”

These signatures can be the same as those on the SIL petition, but they must be re-submitted on a nominating petition. And these signatures must come from folks residing in the district covered by each race. So, D 10 nominators must also be D. 10 residents.

“We expect a long line on Friday, which is when we’ll see a lot of people,” the Elections Department representative added. “And we will be working through the weekend to create an ‘unofficial’ official list of candidates by Monday [August 9]. A list we call “unofficial’ because we may need to check out some of the signatures.”

So, what do the candidates' signature-in-lieu submissions reveal, so far?

Leading the pack in terms of candidates who submitted the least amount of valid signatures-in-lieu is D. 6 supervisor candidate Theresa Sparks.
As of July 27, Sparks had submitted 20 signatures, but only 19 were valid.

Sparks is closely followed, in terms of low SIL numbers, by D.6 candidate Jim Meko: Meko submitted 33 signatures, and only 28 were valid.

Now, this paucity of signatures-in-lieu could suggest that Sparks and Meko do not have massive grassroots support in D. 6. It could also mean that Meko and Sparks are focusing their campaign energies elsewhere. And, to be fair, both could submit more signatures by Friday.

Meko admitted that his campaign did not spend time gathering signatures-in-lieu.

'We did not devote a whole lot of energy on that," Meko told me today."You can only spread yourself so far."

To date, Sparks' signatures only count towards $19.50 of her $500 filing fee. This suggests Sparks will pay for the filing fee herself. (Or from the $10,000 public financing that she had qualified for, as of July 14, with a possible increase coming soon, as Elections examines her filings.).

Likewise for Meko: His 28 signatures-in-lieu means $14 off his $500 filing fee. Meko has already qualified for $10,000 in public funds and has an application for another $22,000 in publid funds in the works. This combined with the $7,000 Meko raised in 2009, and the $6,000 he has raised in the first half of 2010, means Meko will have $45,000 in hand to run his campaign.

"That's no small potatoes to run a campaign in little old District 6," Meko observed.

Unlike signatures-in-lieu, which must be from within the geographical boundaries of the race, candidates can qualify for public financing based on their ability to raise $5,000 in contributions of less than $100 each, with no requirement that those contributions come from within their electoral district. If the candidates raise $5,000 in this way, the city will double it, meaning that the candidates will receive  $10,000 in public funds. And if candidates raise another $10,000, the city will match those funds by a 1:4 ratio.

But unlike Meko, Sparks still appears to need another valid nominating signature from a D. 6 resident to qualify, since 20 sigs is the nominating minimum. So, someone do her a favor and sign the petition, why don’t you.

Sparks’ and Meko's numbers stand in stark contrast to D6 candidates Jane Kim and Debra Walker.
Kim has already submitted 1,732 signatures-in-lieu, and 1,281 are valid. This means Kim qualifies to have her filing fee waived and to complete her nominating petition.

The same holds for Walker. She submitted 1,107 signatures, and 1,041 are valid.

Kim also leads the pack with $71,148 in public funds, followed by Walker ($57,344) and Elaine Zamora (S50, 999) with Sparks a distant fourth ($10,00). So, again, it looks like Kim and Walker are running strategic grassroots campaigns, compared to Sparks and Meko. (I left a message with Sparks campaign manager Chris Lee today, and if there are any updates that shed more light on these numbers, I’ll be sure to post them here. Same for Meko.)
Combined, D.6 candidates have seen $199,491 in public funds disbursed.

Over in  D. 4, incumbent Carmen Chu has submitted 401 signatures, and only 282 are valid. But judging from the megabucks that Chu raised from wealthy contributors in 2008, including $11,500 from PG&E, a $500 filing fee is probably the least of her worries.

In D. 8, Rebecca Prozan submitted 1,147 sigs, and 1,056 were valid, so she cleared the waiver and nominating petition requirements, as did Scott Weiner (1,479 sigs submitted, 1,264 valid) and Rafael Mandelman (1,036  sigs submitted, 1,011 are valid.)

In D. 10, none of the candidates has so far succeeded in qualifying for a complete waiver, which is an interesting statistic in a race that remains wide open at this point.
But Steve Moss came close (1097 sigs submitted, 955 are valid). Chris Jackson came fairly close (904 submitted, 802 valid), Marlene Tran got half way (718 submitted, 574 valid) as did Lynette Sweet (509 submitted, 479 valid), and Malia Cohen secured a third of needed sigs to waive the fee (504 submitted, 338 valid).

Fellow D. 10 candidate Tony Kelly told me that he decided not to concentrate his energies on signature-in-lieu gathering, based on on-the-ground intel that Jackson and Moss had already done a thorough job of knocking on doors and asking for folks’ sigs.

Kelly said he’s focusing his efforts on qualifying for increasing levels of public financing. And so far, Kelly is one of eight candidates in D. 10, who have either qualified or are under review for public financing, making D. 10 the top public financing district, citywide, with $233,065 distributed, as of July 30.

Leading the D. 10 public financing pack is Malia Cohen with $53,671 in public funds disbursed. She is followed by Moss ($53,284) and Jackson ($50,220). Kelly is in fourth place ($39,548), Kristine Enea is in fifth ($26,342), DeWitt Lacy is sixth—and Lynette Sweet and Eric Smith’s public funds applications are still under review.

In D. 8, Rafael Mandelman is one of only two candidates to qualify for public financing. Mandelman has received $62,153, placing him ahead of Scott Weiner ($10,000.)

And in D. 2, Kat Anderson has received $40,480, followed by Abraham Simmons ($36,160) but neither made inroads on the signatures-in-lieu front: Anderson submitted 99 and 82 were valid, while Simmons appears not to have submitted any. Of course, everything in D. 2 is up in the air, now that a judge has ruled that incumbent Michela Alioto-Pier can run again this fall, and D. 2 candidate Janet Reilly has not yet decided whether to run. With the latest campaign finance disclosure reports due this week, stay tuned…