By Luke Thomas
April 19, 2012
A political campaign consultant representing a rival candidate in the race for San Francisco Sheriff last year – as well as several of the rival candidate’s political supporters – contributed funds to a recent anti-domestic violence billboard campaign denouncing comments made by suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, a Fog City Journal investigation has revealed.
The contributions to the billboard campaign launched by La Casa de las Madres – a city-funded non-profit organization committed to preventing domestic violence and providing support services to victims of domestic violence – may suggest the contributions were, in part, politically motivated.
The billboard campaign, funded on LoudSauce.com, took aim at comments made by Mirkarimi following his swearing in January 8 when he said an altercation involving his wife, Eliana Lopez, on New Year’s Eve, was “a private, family matter.”
Seizing on the Sheriff’’s comments to advance their cause, the La Casa billboards displayed, “Domestic violence is never a private matter.”
La Casa de las Madres regularly uses street advertising to spread its anti-domestic violence message, according to records provided by the organization.
Five billboards – one in English costing $4,000 and four in Spanish costing $2,500 – were funded by 137 donations from 102 individual donors, according to records obtained by Fog City Journal.
“Some people donated to the English billboard, then donated again to the Spanish language billboard campaign,” said La Casa de las Madres executive director Kathy Black. “Just a couple of people donated $250.”
Grant Martin, a senior account executive at Storefront Political Media, the consultancy firm that managed Chris Cunnie’s 2011 campaign for Sheriff, contributed $250 to the La Casa billboard campaign, Martin confirmed.
The average donation to the campaign was $47.
“I made the contribution because I support protecting victims of domestic violence,” Martin said. “I hope others will join me in supporting this important effort.”
Martin said it was the first time he has made a donation to La Casa de las Madres, but said he has donated funds to other anti-domestic violence groups.
“The donation was $250,” Martin said in a follow-up email. “I don’t recall giving to La Casa but have given to numerous DV (domestic violence) groups and I have been involved throughout my adult life helping organizations working to protect vulnerable people from the very powerful, politicians or otherwise.”
Martin did not return an email asking him to name the other domestic violence groups he said he has contributed to.
“Is Storefront Political Media somehow behind the Casa De Las Madres people – I don’t even know any of the Casa De Las Madres people, and I think it’s great that they’re standing up for victims of domestic violence – but we’re not a part of this,” said Storefront Political Media founder Eric Jaye.
Jaye would not confirm or deny that he had any knowledge of Martin’s billboard campaign contribution.
“Grant Martin makes his own political contributions – charitable contributions – it’s a not political contribution, it’s a charitable contribution, and he doesn’t need to run his charitable contributions through me,” Jaye said.
Twenty-two individuals who contributed to the La Casa billboard campaign also made contributions to at least one political campaign in the last election cycle, records show. Of those 22 individuals, ten (Anne Stuhldreher, Bilen Mesfin, Joyce Newstat, Marjorie Swig, Sharon Johnson, Susan Lowenberg, Tim Silard, Tim Wirth, Roma Guy and Grant Martin ) contributed to the Cunnie campaign for Sheriff.
Asked to comment on the findings, Corey Cook, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, said, “Although the findings of the investigation are interesting, I’m not sure if I can conclude anything in the absolute.”
Mirkarimi co-defense counsel David Waggoner was less cautious in his assessment.
“The facts speak for themselves,” Waggoner said. “The billboards were funded by Cunnie supporters. Grant Martin’s contribution was over five times the average. Martin refuses to say which other DV organizations he’s contributed to, and Eric Jaye refuses to say whether he knew about Martin’s contribution. Maybe when Jaye said ‘We’re not part of this,’ he meant the royal ‘we.’”
Both Mirkarimi and Lopez have maintained from the outset that there has been a political element to Mirkarimi’s prosecution.
Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi without pay March 21 on charges of official misconduct after Mirkarimi pleaded guilty March 19 to one count of misdemeanor false imprisonment stemming from the alleged incident.
The Ethics Commission, a quasi-judicial body consisting of five political appointees, is set to investigate Lee’s official misconduct charges during an administrative hearing beginning Monday and present its findings and recommendations, if any, to the Board of Supervisors. The Ethics Commission appointments are made by the offices of Mayor, City Attorney, District Attorney, Assessor and Board of Supervisors.
Three-fourths of the Board of Supervisors must vote in the affirmative to permanently remove an elected official from office. Should the Board vote to uphold the misconduct charges against Mirkrarimi, an election will be held in November to fill what would become a vacancy. Lee named former Chief Deputy Sheriff Vicki Hennessy to serve as Sheriff in the interim.