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

(Part 3 of a 5 part series)

Mayor Gavin Newsom
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Joe Lynn

February 21, 2007

Editor's Note: Part 3 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

Mayor Newsom's fundraising is off the pace set in the last election

We had earlier noted that Newsom's fundraising before the scandal was not keeping pace with his 2003 record $6 million haul. Despite the Examiner's headlines (which was removed from the home page the same day it was published), it reports facts that confirm my analysis.

I wrote, "His next report - if he is to keep pace with reaching a $6 million goal this time - will need to collect $2.7 million compared to the $1.5 million raised in the same period in 2003."

That's a pace of over $400,000 a month. The Examiner reports he has raised $350,000 all this year. Most of that time was before the scandal broke February 1st. That's a monthly pace of about $240,000, some $160,000 a month short of where he should be and $10,000 short of his 2003 pace when he had twice as long to reach $6 million.

New laws account for most of this dip. We have yet to see how the scandal will play with his base but can confidently predict that it will have an effect as well. Now let's look at the other ripple effects of the scandal.

Newsom ethics have been challenged

Since the scandal broke, the Mayor's own ethics have been challenged twice. I'm not talking about the sex. I'm talking about how he views using other folks' money to pay off his own debts.

Here's the Chronicle's recap:

Thursday's announcement by CIty Attorney Dennis Herrera about an inquiry into the payments to Ruby Rippey-Tourk is the second time that financial questions have been raised involving the affair.

Last week, the mayor agreed to continue to pay Tourk's salary as campaign manager out of his own pocket until his former aide finds new employment.

Newsom campaign aides had considered paying the severance arrangement out of campaign funds collected from political donors -- but a city attorney opinion raised doubts about the legality of such an arrangement.

Taken individually, these recent incidents might cause only moderate alarm. However, they fit into a pattern of questionable actions regarding Newsom's use of campaign and government resources.

Scandals open old wounds

Let's start by listing the past stories just involving misuse of City and campaign funds to relieve Newsom of liabilities:

1. In 2004, his "low-key" inauguration cost $321,000 and involved a campaign finance scandal. An email from his campaign attorney revealed a plan to use funds raised for the inauguration to pay off campaign debts. Such a scheme may well have been illegal according to Bob Stern, the author of California's Political Reform Act, and now the head of the Center for Governmental Studies and Jim Knox, then the Executive Director of California Common Cause.

Money used to pay campaign debts are subject to the $500 contribution limit, a limit not honored by the inaugural committee. His attorney, Jim Sutton explained that the email was the product of confusion in his office. (Mr. Sutton is discussed further below.)

2. In 2004, the City Attorney found that SLUG gardeners had been improperly coerced into working for the Newsom campaign. Although Mohammed Nuru was implicated, Newsom kept him on the City payroll.

3. In 2005, Tony Hall tied Newsom's treatment of Treasure Island with a major contributor, Darius Anderson. This is the same Darius Anderson who may hire former Campaign Manager Alex Tourk. That would relieve Newsom of a $120,000 liability under his agreement to pay Mr. Tourk personally for lost salary and may be questioned as an illegal $120,000 gift to the Newsom.

4. In 2005, the Sacramento paper, Capitol Weekly, reported stories of excessive fundraising costs and overhead enriching his political consultants and their fundraisers. My own calculations indicate as much as 50 cents out of every dollar raised went for overhead.

These stories have not been adequately refuted. Some folks have been paid quite well. This in part explains why Newsom's fundraising advantage of seven to one did so little to advance his candidacy.

Furthermore, Newsom has not always eagerly complied with existing ethics laws. Put the list above into the following context:

1. In 2002, Newsom filed an incomplete Statement of Economic Interests. Questions were raised as to whether he had received an illegal gift from his patron, Gordon Getty. When called to account for the misleading document, Newsom first blamed the City Attorney, then changed that story and accepted responsibility.

2. His campaign withheld reporting the possibly illegal donation of office space in 2003 by Julie Lee. Then, when she became involved in the scandal that led to the resignation of California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, Newsom did not ask for her resignation. She stayed on like Mr. Nuru.

3. His campaign collected more than $500 in contributions under rules that allowed them to collect $500 checks as long as debt was owed from the November 2003 election. Data suggest that Newsom abused this, but only an Ethics audit can tell for certain. I call upon Newsom to ask Ethics to perform such an audit publicly so that any questions can be aired publicly.

4. His 2004 "triple play" to transfer then Supervisor Tony Hall to Treasure Island required an illegal meeting of the Ethics Commission and eventually backfired when Hall refused to play ball with the Newsom's big development contributors. We now know Newsom rushed the Ethics Commission into an illegal meeting to freeze out possible competition in the election to his chosen man, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd.

5. In 2006, Newsom aides misrepresented to the Board of Supervisors a letter supposedly from the Director of the Planning Department repudiating his department's position on legislation affecting parking zoning downtown.

6. In 2007, his press secretary, Peter Ragone, became the center of his own Ethics whirlwind.

Finally, the continued association of Newsom with attorney and Newsom Campaign Treasurer, Jim Sutton, will color the way his contributors view him. Sutton was hit in 2004 with the largest fine for campaign finance violations in the history of San Francisco and one of the largest in the history of the State.

Sutton has been associated with such right wing projects as the Free Republic sharing space with such articles as "The Homosexual Agenda."

In San Diego, Sutton became the subject of discussion as a possible liability for a candidate whom he represented. Then last year, he was implicated in possible criminal activity in an attempt to elect Newsom protégé, Rob Black, to district 6 supervisor.

Taken together, these stories create an unfavorable climate for fundraising this year. And we can expect a lot more coverage of the sex scandal story. It implicates Newsom's playboy image, demonstrates his disrespect of a loyal friend, defines what he means by the sanctity of marriage, and casts in new light his best practices policies for the workplace.


New laws and the direct implications of the scandal, all point to a lowered campaign treasury for Newsom in 2007.

Tomorrow we will look at how rehab will affect fundraising and put the fundraising into the larger picture of the new public finance program and alternatives to direct contributions.

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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