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The six million dollar mayor:
Why the 2007 mayor's race will be so different

(Part 1 of a 5 part series)

Mayor Gavin Newsom
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Joe Lynn

February 19, 2007

Editor's Note: Part 1 of a 5 part series by elections and ethics expert Joe Lynn. Lynn explains that scandals aren't all that will reduce Mayor Gavin Newsom's campaign fundraising

Gavin Newsom set fundraising records in his 2003 mayoral race. His haul of over $6 million almost doubled Willie Brown's previous record. He now has filed his first report for his re-election campaign covering a four-month fundraising effort in 2006.

This go-around, he has so far raised almost $650,000. So it looks as though he'll reach that mark again, doesn't it?

Not so fast - three new San Francisco laws to tighten campaign finances will show that even without a scandal, he is likely to fall about $2 million short this year. In fact, San Francisco mayoral campaign spending is now on an order of magnitude greater than anywhere else in the country. The Mayor spent more than $7.65 per voter to be elected in 2003.

You might expect that Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa spent more per voter because his campaign was in a market that requires expensive television advertising. However, compare the Los Angeles cost per voter of less than $1.40 to Newsom's $7.65!

This year, though, the fundraising laws are different. Anyone considering a run for the mayor's office needs to understand these changes. The scandal and the new mayoral public finance program need to be examined.

This series concludes with lessons for good government advocates.

A Look at the New Laws

New campaign finance rules are very likely to reduce the amount raised by all candidates, particularly Newsom, during this year's election. Here's why:

The contribution cap this year has been reduced to $500 from $750. In the 2003 election, mayoral candidates making it to the runoff collected up to $750 from contributors because there was a run-off.

- This year's election - with no runoff - has a no-frills cap of $500. Records on file at the Ethics Commission show 4,274 contributors gave more than this year's limit of $500 in 2003. That amounted to over $1,000,000 of his $6,000,000 take.

He can't expect that money this time.

- No more corporate contributions are allowed. In this year's election, corporate donations are banned thanks to legislation sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin in 2006. The campaign finance reports at the Ethics Commission don't easily reveal which business contributors were corporations and which were partnerships or trusts. However, there may be as much as another $1,000,000 (probably less) to subtract from this year's potential Newsom donor base.

- A much shorter fundraising period this year. The time in which money can be raised has been truncated in legislation that I sponsored at the Ethics Commission. In the last election, Newsom raised money over a period of three and half years during which he paid off a large accrued debt.

This year, he has only six months after the election to pay off his debt. Instead of three and a half years, he will only have two years, 4/7ths the time he had before. His next report - if he is to keep pace with reaching a $6 million goal this time will need to show he collected $2.7 million compared to the $1.5 million raised in the same period back in 2003. Otherwise, it's possible he could forfeit those donations.

Let's wait and see. I don't predict that Newsom will set such a blistering pace. His first report - for fundraising before the scandal broke - was only modestly ahead of the pace set last time.

Predictions are always difficult, but halving the fundraising period and subracting as much as $2 million in past contributions to Newsom's campaign means, by conservative estimates, that Newsom will have a hard time reaching $4 million. And we haven't even mentioned the effects of the scandal on his fundraising!

In future articles, we will look at how the scandal will play with the demographics of Newsom's contributor base, and we will study the ripple effects of the scandal on his fundraising. We will conclude with the lessons good government advocates can learn from our analysis: San Franciscans can control unbridled spending in their elections through innovative strategies.

Joe Lynn was the campaign finance and budget officer of the San Francisco Ethics Commission from 1998 to 2003. From 2003 to 2006, he served as one of the five Ethics Commissioners. The San Francisco Examiner called him “the backbone of the Ethics Commission.” While on staff, he received numerous awards and has been a speaker at many conferences on Good Government. He maintains an active interest in good government laws. Email Joe at joelynn114@hotmail.com


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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