City contractors plunk down for Lee


Representatives from Stellar Services, an IT infrastructure services provider that also does business as 4 U Services, contributed a total of $7,500 in support of Mayor Ed Lee's bid for a full term, filings with the San Francisco Ethics Commission show. The New York-based company holds a contract with the San Francisco Public Utilities commission (SFPUC) and has been paid $91,737.80 to date for programming and coding services.

Lee also received a maximum $500 contribution from a senior vice president at AECOM, another city contractor. While the contributions may have squared with campaign finance law, significant support from companies doing business with the city nevertheless give the impression of businesses attempting to advance their own interests through political influence.

The majority of the contributions from Stellar came in the form of a $5,000 donation from 4 U Services to the Committee for Effective City Management, an independent expenditure committee created in support of Lee that recently hosted a Lee fundraiser in Millbrae honoring special guests Sup. Jane Kim and former Mayor Willie Brown.

4 U, according to its website, also does business as Stellar Services, a company based in New York that has an office in San Francisco. "Stellar is currently a sub-consultant that is working to develop our new online invoicing system called SOLIS," SFPUC spokesperson Tyrone Jue told the Guardian. "The invoicing system centralizes and streamlines the invoicing process, makes invoicing transaction transparent to all users, increases reporting and transparency, and makes invoicing completely paperless." Jue noted that the contract was signed in July 2009, and the SOLIS pilot program is underway.

The remainder of contributions from Stellar were made to Lee's official mayoral campaign. Five individuals who listed Stellar Services or 4 U Services as their employer, including company founder and president Liang Chen, made maximum contributions of $500, according to a report filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Shaista Shaikh of the Ethics Commission noted that it is legal for city contractors to make contributions to independent expenditure committees formed in support of a candidate for public office. City contractors run afoul of ethics law if they make campaign contributions to an elected official who must approve the contract at any time during contract negotiations or until six months have passed from the date of contract approval, she explained. Since the contract with Stellar was approved in 2009, the contribution would have been made well past the six-month mark  -- so it apparently squares with the campaign finance reform ordinance.

Reached by phone, Lee spokesperson Tony Winnicker told the Guardian that if the contract was approved in 2009, it would not be included in a database of city contractors maintained by the campaign, since "there's no prohibition" against accepting campaign money after the six-month ban has passed. "So that should not be a concern to the Guardian," he said.

On Sept. 17, Lee received a maximum $500 contribution from Joseph G. Moss, Jr., who listed his occupation as a senior vice president of AECOM in Atlanta, according to an Ethics filing. Lee received another $875 in contributions from AECOM employees, Ethics records show. According a press release on the AECOM website which seems to have been taken down since the Guardian highlighted it, an AECOM joint venture was awarded a $150 million contract for program management services for the SFPUC's wastewater improvement program on Aug. 16. AECOM is also a partner in a joint venture working on construction of the controversial Central Subway project.   

Since the contractor contribution ban (Section 1.126 of the city's campaign finance reform ordinance) sets a number of parameters for determining the legality of contributions, it wasn't immediately clear whether the contributions from AECOM were in line with the ordinance.

Regardless of whether the campaign cash falls on the right side of the law, however, substantial support for Lee from city contractors is likely to raise eyebrows, especially in light of concerns progressives have raised that San Francisco is about to witness a resurgence of the pay-to-play politics that characterized City Hall under Brown.