Going into hock:
How to avoid disclosure and buy an election
By Marc Salomon
October 25, 2007
As campaign finance law has been expanded to require that those
trying to buy an election disclose contributor details, smart,
well-heeled campaign finance attorneys such as Jim Sutton have
created and exploited a loophole to evade disclosure and campaign
from the shadows. The FPPC even fined him for this in a case arising
out of the 2000 public finance campaign (Prop O), but our Ethics
Commission doesn't seem to be bothered to investigate.
Last year, corporate San Francisco teamed up with organized labor
to defeat Proposition D, a well-intentioned yet convoluted ballot
measure which aimed to preserve Laguna Honda Hospital as the convalescent
province of frail seniors.
Rather than disclose who was paying for that campaign, Jim Sutton
structured the financing of that campaign using accrued debt.
The debt was offered up by vendors, such as printers, consultants
and mail houses so as to conceal the true source of funding until
the debt was paid by contributors after the election, so that
voters could not connect the Republican financing to the labor
Currently, another Republican-backed measure, Proposition H,
is also operating in stealth debt finance mode. The political
operation surrounding Mayor Gavin Newsom is leveraging its buying
power and credit to run a campaign using debt financing so that
the voters will not know the true sources of funding. This arrangement
carries a whiff of racketeering, as business arrangements of the
connected and powerful get them access to credit at a level where
grassroots campaigns could never attain.
It also appears that the downtown campaign against Proposition
E, mayoral question time, "The let's really work together
(apart) coalition" is being funded by a similar debt financing
Although this pattern is disturbing when used for ballot measure
campaigns, where constitutionally there can be no contribution
limits, it has also been used in candidate campaigns where loans
greater than the contribution limit of $500 can be construed as
illegal contributions as the debt lingers and ages.
If this pattern holds true, Thursday's release of pre-election
campaign finance reports will show that Sutton's campaigns will
have witheld disclosure on contributors from the electorate yet
again until after the fact. Had voters known that Republicans
who contributed to former right wing homophobic conservative US
Senator Rick Santorum were bankrolling a major environmentally
destructive planning overhaul for San Francisco, many would vote
against it accordingly.
Sutton's record of creative concealment includes violations leading
to the largest fine levied in Ethics Commission and Fair Political
Practices Commission history when he "forgot" to report
$800,000 in late contributions from PG&E which were used to
narrowly defeat a grassroots
public power campaign in 2002.
Record ethics violator, attorney James Sutton
Sutton only gets to ply his trade in San Francisco in violation
of the letter and spirit of the law because politicians who claim
to support campaign finance reform patronize his law practice
and take a pass on funding and publicizing the work of the Ethics
Commission to the level required to check the machinations of
smart, clever operators like Sutton.
I am sure that we can count on District Attorney Kamala Harris
and Mayor Gavin Newsom to put the interests of the public before
the interests of themselves and their Republican campaign attorney
to do the right thing and support criminal charges against Jim
Sutton for serial, willful flaunting of the Campaign Finance Reform
Ordinance and the Fair Political Practices Act, in using accrued
debt to withold from the public that critical information which
we have a right to know.
Marc Salomon facilitated the successful inclusion of a
transgendered civil rights plank in the platform of the California
Green Party prior to similar action by the California Democratic
Marc Salomon (far left)
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