The problem with the Lee investigations


Six major mayoral candidates, including John Avalos, Dennis Herrera and Leland Yee, have once again called on the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate the Ed Lee voter-fraud charges. That's what needs to happen, of course. And the district attorney should do a thorough investigation and file criminal charges if warranted.

But there's a basic problem here, and it goes to the heart of what's wrong with the Lee campaign and with his whole approach to running for office. See, even if the FPPC finds a problem, what's going to happen? The campaign will have to pay a fine (which, given all of the rich supporters of Lee, will be easy to pay).  If the D.A. finds that laws have been broken, some low-level folks or people who solicited contributions improperly will face prosecution -- and most likely cut a deal and pay a fine and get probation.

By then, of course, if all goes as predicted, Lee will have won the election. So as far as he and his key allies are concerned, none of this really matters.

Once he's elected mayor, he figures (probably correctly) that this will all blow over. The FPPC investigation won't be concluded for months. The D.A. clearly isn't going to file charges against anyone before Election Day. Besides, according to the Department of Elections, 44,000 people had already voted by the time the latest stories broke Nov. 2. Many of them are Lee votes.

No matter how flawed the election, how much sleazy, inappropriate or criminal activity was involved, there's no way the results will be thrown out. There's no way the election of Ed Lee will be voided. If all of the tactics of Lee supporters work and he comes out on top, there will be no consequences for him. When it comes to San Francisco elections, cheating works -- Willie Brown learned that long ago.

That's why Ed Lee scares me: He's allowing his supporters to use a corrupt playbook that assumes that the rules don't matter, that winning at all costs is the only issue, that ethics and clean government can be dismissed as side issues. Once you start down that road, there's no going back. Once you set that tone at City Hall, every half-assed crook and con artist will be convinced it's open season. And I just don't see Lee as strong enough to stop it.

UPDATE: Avalos just called and told me he wasn't aware that the other candidates were calling on the FPPC to investigate and wasn't at the press conference where that announcement was made. Sorry 'bout that, a miscommunication.


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