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

(Part 5 of a 5 part series)

Mayor Gavin Newsom
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Joe Lynn

February 23, 2007

Editor's Note: Part 5 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

Well-heeled interests still spend campaign money in San Francisco with no effective check from the Ethics Commission. However, the public now has an unfettered opportunity to demonstrate - again - its distaste for big money in politics.

My analysis suggests that the mayor, due to new laws and fallouts from the scandal, will not be able to raise as much money as he did in 2003, but there are still entities willing and able to spend on independent expenditures as well as on pet ballot measures such as Care Not Cash and Aggressive Panhandling.

Fortunately, San Franciscans have a history of tightening limits on these abuses. Fourteen years ago, San Franciscans approved the creation of an Ethics Commission to oversee and enforce the good government laws. In 1995, they enacted voluntary campaign spending limits. Even Willie Brown in 1999 accepted the expenditure ceilings.

San Franciscans also elected supervisors who abided by these ceilings over those who did not. In ten of the eleven supervisor races in 2000, the candidate with the most money lost; it was a landmark race for that reason. Voters here undoubtedly seek a politics cleaner than our Bay.

Yet the implementation and enforcement of voter will has been left to the City government, primarily the Mayor's office. Tolerance of the influence of moneyed interests is at an uncomfortable level. Despite a damning report from the Civil Grand Jury, the Mayor continues to underfund the Ethics Commission. This renders it an institution in triage without the resources to pursue the most troubling violations. Instead of investigating and prosecuting gross transgressions, its primary function has been collecting late fines, many of which come from small campaigns who lack the experience or professional advice to comply with deadlines. Government institutions alone cannot ensure that big money is held in check. That's a job left squarely to the voters.

Now is the time for voters to take an active stand against candidates backed by unseemly amounts of money. They can voice disapproval in many ways. They can vote for and donate to candidates backed by city residents of modest means. A new Public Financing Program should encourage more such candidates to run; it bolsters their chances of winning an election. This year, mayoral candidates can use public financing to boost their treasuries to $1.4 million. That's about twice as much as was available in 2003 to Matt Gonzalez for two elections that November and December. It's also about half of what the Mayor will probably raise this year, effectively cutting his seven to one fundraising advantage of 2003 to about two to one - a much more democratic ratio.

I'm not urging voters to abandon Gavin Newsom. Some voters will find other issues more compelling. However, they don't need to give money to candidates who are not abiding by our expenditure ceilings. Voters can properly encourage their clubs to endorse the Mayor but vote against the clubs' spending any money on him. His name need not appear on their mailings, leaving his treasury and volunteers with the responsibility of circulating the club's endorsement. Whatever the desired course of action, it is important that voters understand that they are the best agents for tempering the influence of money on elections.

This works, as proven by the gleaming city of Tucson, Arizona. It gleams because even politicians there who oppose public financing still adopt the program since the voters won't tolerate public business done by politicians indebted to private big money. This indicates a remarkable shift in expectations about the culture of campaigns. Perhaps it is time to humble ourselves and appreciate the grandeur of a southwestern town where people have learned to take back the driver's seat from moneyed interests.

Assistance on this series was provided by Kevin De Liban; editing by Daniela Kirshenbaum.

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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