The funny money against Prop. B


Credit where it's due: My competitor and sometimes journalistic adversary Joe Eskenazi has a nice little piece on the weird money behind the campaign against Prop. B, a policy statement about the privatization of Coit Tower. He points out that such varied groups as the California Dental Association and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians have coughed up money to protect the right of San Francisco officials to close Coit Tower to the public and rent it out for fancy corporate parties.

And how exactly did that happen?

Well, Eskenazi manages to tie Willie Brown into it. (He also calls this "Nimby against the Swells," which isn't quite fair -- I don't think the supporters of Prop. B are trying to keep anything out of their back yards. If anything, they want more noisy tourists and fewer quiet, subdued rich-people events. And I don't think the "swells" are against it as much as the mayor, his Rec-Park director and big businesses that generally back the privatization of public resources.)

But there's another interesting twist: I'm not sure the folks who gave to the Golden State Leadership Fund Political Action Committee, which is running a No on B independent expenditure, had any clue where their money was going.

Sure, the Chamber of Commerce and BOMA know what's up, and it's pretty clear why they like the idea of raising money for the parks by holding exclusive private events instead of by raising taxes. But the Indians? And the dentists? By what possible stretch do they care about a San Francisco ballot measure that has nothing to do with Native American rights or oral health?

Eskenazi may be right -- maybe Brown called the Indians and asked, and they threw the money his way to help his buddy the mayor (while keeping the mayor's fingers out of this particular political pie). But the Golden State Leadership PAC, through which all this money flowed, has been around for years and gives money to candidates all over the state. (It's definately something of a slush fund for local races -- files in the Secretary of State's office show that in 2008, money from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. flowed in and out of the PAC as it ran a campaign against the San Francisco public-power measure, Prop. H. PAC money went to David Chiu, Phil Ting and Ed Lee for mayor.) It's based in West Hollywood and the treasurer is a guy named William Molina.

I called the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the California Dental Association and asked them why there were helping fund a campaign against Prop. B in San Francisco. The press person at the dental group apparently had no idea what I was talking about and asked for more details about the contribution. I gave her the date and the PAC and I haven't heard back.

The Indians didn't seem to clear on Prop. B, either. Kenneth Shoji, a spokesperson for the group, told me by email:

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians made a contribution of $25,000 to the Golden State Leadership Fund PAC with the expectation of helping to support candidate(s) for public office in the 2012 elections.  We do not control where or how the PAC might extend its support beyond that.

In other words: This Coit tower thing is news to us.

UPDATE: I got essentially the same message from the dentists. Alicia Malaby at the CDA writes:

 When an organization such as CalDPAC contributes to an independent expenditure committee, that committee may spend money on races and issues that CalDPAC supports, but may also spend money on other campaigns. CalDPAC does not control how those committees spend money, and in this case, CalDPAC has no interest in and no position on Proposition B.

UPDATE TWO: Ron Cottingham at PORAC just called me and said his group has no position on or interest in Prop. B. The money that went to the PAC was earmarked to support Rob Bonta for Assembly in the East Bay. Presumably the PAC folks keep track of such things.

Maybe not. Maybe Willie or someone else made a call. It happens all the time.  I mean, somebody clearly was raising money for this PAC, which right now isn't doing a hell of a lot besides No on B in San Francisco. (Oh, I called Brown, too. He hasn't called back. He never does. I still always try.)

Either way, it's a classic San Francisco political story -- and it reflects how muddy and corrupt local politics can still be, even in an era of electronic disclosure and ethics laws. Why, if the dentists and Indians don't like Prop. B, didn't they (or any of the others in the PAC) create a No on B committee, disclose who was behind it and let the voters know a little more about the real money trail? Why funnel all this cash through a little-known Southern California PAC?

And for that matter, why is there a sudden influx of late money in this race? Has the mayor and the Chamber types suddenly discovered that Prop. B might pass -- and might set a precedent against future privatization efforts?

June 5 is Election Day. Vote early and often.






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