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Going into hock:
How to avoid disclosure and buy an election

By Marc Salomon

Guest Editorial

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 campaign.

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 mechanism.

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 Party.

Marc Salomon (far left)


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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