By Luke Thomas
Editor’s Note: This report has been updated with a response from Ed Lee campaign spokesperson Tony Winnicker.
October 7, 2011
San Francisco City Attorney and mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera today called for a formal criminal investigation into allegations of a conspiracy to launder contributions to the Ed Lee campaign for mayor.
In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, Herrera alleges donors to interim Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign conspired to exceed contribution limits by laundering money through business associates of Go Lorrie’s Airport Shuttle.
“Investigations are warranted when credible allegations risk undermining public trust in our local government — and we’ve certainly reached that point here,” Herrera said. “Only independent investigators with authority to subpoena records and question witnesses under oath can adequately resolve questions to which San Franciscans deserve answers. A formal investigation will best assure justice while protecting innocent parties. I hope interim Mayor Lee’s campaign joins in calling for such an inquiry, and cooperates with it fully.”
The letter notes published admissions by employees of Go Lorrie’s Airport Shuttle may indicate felony and misdemeanor violations of state and local laws.
Those admissions and allegations of illegal contributions to the Lee campaign were first reported by The Bay City Citizen.
According to the Bay Citizen report, sixteen employees of Go Lorrie’s were cajoled by their manager, Jason Perez, to donate $500 each, the maximum amount allowed by law, to the Ed Lee for mayor campaign. Many of the employees had never heard of Ed Lee when solicited.
It is illegal for donors to channel campaign money through others with the intent of sidestepping contribution limits.
The contributions were made in mid-September, shortly after airport officials reversed a policy decision to modify curbside parking rules that would have provided all shuttle companies equal access to airport passengers seeking shuttles.
Following the publication of the Bay Citizen report, Lee’s campaign reportedly returned the donations from Go Lorrie’s.
Herrera notes that several political endeavors on Lee’s behalf have been “plagued by ethical and legal questions, including political activities by city contractors, and the advent of a controversial ‘general purpose committee’ (Run, Ed, Run) that advanced Lee’s candidacy throughout the summer while sidestepping legal restraints that normally apply to candidate committees.”
During the Run Ed Run campaign, Rose Pak, one of Lee’s most vocal backers, solicited help from refuse collection company, Recology, to collect signatures urging Ed Lee to run for mayor. Though Lee was not a declared candidate at the time, it is illegal for companies that have contracts with the City to campaign on behalf of city officials seeking elected office.
The campaign to elect San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi to Room 200, noted, “Incidents like these are a reminder of the backroom deals and crony politics that San Franciscans are sick of. This is just another in a long line of questionable activities surrounding Ed Lee and his powerful special interest backers.”
Urging “a full, fair and speedy investigation,” Herrera’s letter concludes, “Allowing these questions to remain wholly unanswered can only serve to betray San Franciscans’ confidence in the integrity of their public institutions, and potentially diminish the legitimacy of their elected leadership.”
Responding, Lee campaign spokesperson Tony Winnicker wrote via email, “Mayor Lee’s campaign is committed to 100% compliance with all campaign laws and we deplore any violation. That’s why we return any contributions that raise suspicion through our own review, inquiries and concerns.”