San Francisco Chronicle reporter John Cote's scoop highlighting how Recology executives were working behind the scenes under pressure from Chinatown power broker Rose Pak to encourage Mayor Ed Lee to seek a full term is just the latest development for a committee that's raised eyebrows already, and it may be just the beginning.
Five mayoral candidates -- board President David Chiu, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, state Sen. Leland Yee, former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, and businesswoman Joanna Rees -- have teamed up to encourage the San Francisco Ethics Commission to investigate whether Progress for All has run afoul of local election laws, rallying behind an effort spearheaded by Democratic County Central Committee Chair Aaron Peskin in a July 28 letter to commissioners.
At the heart of the issue is whether Lee or any of his representatives have been coordinating with agents of Progress for All. If they are, Progress for All would have to be considered Lee's own, candidate-controlled committee, Peskin asserts in the letter.
"Given the close relationship between Ms. Pak, the Mayor, and Progress for All, it is very possible that the committee has 'consulted' or 'coordinated' with the Mayor, and therefore its expenditures should be deemed to be made 'at his behest,'" Peskin's letter to the Ethics Commission argues. A City Hall insider told the Guardian that Pak -- a primary driver behind the Run, Ed, Run campaign -- is regularly observed going to and from the mayor's office.
"If Progress for All or any of these other committees has been acting on Mayor Lee's behalf, those committees may have violated the $500 contribution limit and prohibitions against accepting corporate, union or city contractor money, restrictions that apply to all candidate committees," the letter states.
Financial disclosure filings for committees fundraising for the Nov. 8 election are due Monday.
Aside from the question of whether there is coordination between Lee, who has not yet announced that he will run for mayor, and Progress for All, concerns have been raised about city contractors aiding in the efforts of the campaign. Under the city's Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance, contractors doing business with the city are not allowed to make political contributions.
(Given the revelations that Recology executives' signature gathering efforts were done in violation of company policy, it's no wonder Recology executives become bashful when approached by reporters who ask tough questions.)
Meanwhile, Recology might not be the only city contractor that Pak has encouraged to support Run, Ed, Run. A column that former Mayor Willie Brown published recently in the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that this isn't the first conversation of this kind.
"One thing you can say about Chinatown powerhouse Rose Pak, she is not shy," Brown's column begins. "Holding court at the party for the opening of the new airport terminal, Rose was seated at the table with interim Mayor Ed Lee and his wife, Anita, and a host of other local officials. 'I want every one of you to call his office and tell him he should run for mayor,' Rose told the table. 'And do it right away so that there's no misunderstanding.' Then she turned to the architect David Gensler. 'Didn't you do this terminal?' she asked. 'Yes,' he said. 'Didn't you remodel this terminal before?' 'Yes,' he said. 'Then your firm should raise a million dollars for his election campaign.'"
While Brown may not be a visible player in the Run, Ed, Run campaign, he's certainly been at the table with a key driver behind it and Lee himself -- and he's using his platform in the Chronicle to get the word out about Lee's potential mayoral campaign.
"The specific revelations of unethical and possibly illegal activity are very troubling and need to be fully investigated by the Ethics Commission as soon as possible," Chiu told the Guardian.
Political consultant Jim Stearns, whose firm is managing Sen. Yee's mayoral campaign, joined the chorus in calling for an investigation. "If you think about the fact that these guys still, according to press reports, are eating together once a week, and there's not supposed to be any coordination ... You have this committee that is essentially operating in complete disregard of the campaign law," he said. "It's sort of like there's a crime being committed, and where's the police?"
The San Francisco Ethics Commission will hold a policy discussion about how to treat Progress for All at its Aug. 8 meeting, Ethics director John St. Croix told the Guardian.
"We've told the committee that we believe they're a primarily form committee, which is an independent expenditure committee on behalf of a candidate for office or a ballot measure," St. Croix explained. "They're claiming that there's no candidate, so they can't be that committee, even though they're acting pretty much exactly like one would."
As things stand, Progress for All has filed as a general purpose committee, he added. "A general purpose committee is what you would think of as a [political action committee]. They usually represent an organization or elected group of individuals, they tend to exist for a long period of time, and they contribute to multiple campaigns, whereas a primarily formed committee is created to support or oppose a single candidate or a single ballot measure in a single election," he explained. Another key distinction: "Independent expenditure committees don't have contribution limits the way that candidate committees do. Candidate committees have a $500-per-contributor contribution limit."
Peskin, meanwhile, hinted that there may be more to come. "There's a lot of it," he said, "and I think there are many people who have stories to tell."