Mirkarimi Political Rivals Helped to Fund Anti-Domestic Violence Billboard Campaign

Written by Luke Thomas. Posted in News, Politics

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Published on April 19, 2012 with 55 Comments

An anti-domestic violence billboard campaign aimed at comments made by suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was financed in part by donations from supporters of a rival candidate for sheriff. Screenshot courtesy Loudsauce.com.

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.

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas is a former software developer and computer consultant who proudly hails from London, England. In 2001, Thomas took a yearlong sabbatical to travel and develop a photographic portfolio. Upon his return to the US, Thomas studied photojournalism to pursue a career in journalism. In 2004, Thomas worked for several neighborhood newspapers in San Francisco before accepting a partnership agreement with the SanFranciscoSentinel.com, a news website formerly covering local, state and national politics. In September 2006, Thomas launched FogCityJournal.com. The BBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, New York Times, Der Spiegel, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, 7x7, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Bay Guardian and the San Francisco Weekly, among other publications and news outlets, have published his work. Thomas is a member of the Freelance Unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521 and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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  • DavidinSF

    Political assassination against Mirkarimi. Good investigating and reporting FCJ, again you’re ahead of the pack.

  • There has been a witch hunt since the beginning to oust Ross. These latest discoveries confirm what many of us have long suspected. This is all about politics. Excellent reporting Luke.

  • Akavandiv

    Surprise Surprise,

    There is politics in the establishment! Next thing is finding out there are politics involved in the handling of his case. Anyone with a bit of sense would have know this; but we are just supposed to close our eyes and pretend justice system is totally honest and nothing happens for politics. Sorry folks I was never that naive.

  • It is not inconsistent to support an anti-domestic violence campaign to counteract a stupid comment by Mirkarimi. La Casa de las Madres, by the way, is a shelter for domestic violence victims providing a vital service.

    Mirkarimi stood before the court and plead guilty and then in mea culpa pieces is now saying he plead guilty for expediency. Why is he telling his story now when shortly after the New Year’s Eve incident he could have cleared the air and probably saved himself and his wife the grief that was to come? Instead he and his wife quickly lawyered up and stonewalled the investigators. He gets no sympathy here.

  • The KPFA Morning Mix will be doing a segment on the case on Monday, sometime between 8 and 9, on 94.1fm and streaming at kpfa.org.

  • @Ralph: I don’t think it could be more obvious that Ross pled guilty for expediency’s sake. If he were one of San Francisco’s fabulously wealthy political royals, with a few million dollars to throw into his defense without feeling it, I’m sure he would have continued in court and asked for a different venue. But he is not one of them.

    I also don’t believe that DA Gascón would have agreed to the plea bargain on this obscure misdemeanor false imprisonment charge, which did not prohibit Ross from carrying a firearm and remaining in office, if he, Gascón, thought that he could convict Ross on the more serious misdemeanor charges.

  • chickens roosting

    La Casa is run by Kathy Black, who has come under fire in the past for racism, lack of Spanish translation, and grossly providing shelter victims, expired meat and substandard living conditions.

    Check the Commission on Women Hearings from back in 2003:
    Here is what they had to comply with:

    1. La Casa must maintain a minimum of one, but preferably at least two, Spanish speaking staff who interact with clients (advocates, facility assistants, managers of client services) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Language line and pagers cannot take the place of staff on site. We recommend that La Casa develop a proposal for how to accomplish this by June 1, 2003. We would like to see appropriate staffing in place no later than September 1, 2003.
    2. La Casa will develop a written policy expressing their opposition to the use of children as interpreters, which will be prominently posted in English and Spanish by June 1, 2003, a copy of which will be provided to DOSW.
    3. La Casa must submit to DOSW the grievance policy and Client Bill of Rights currently posted at the shelter for our review by June 1, 2003. Furthermore, we request that La Casa work with us to develop a more comprehensive policy, which would include a means for clients to grieve to an independent body if they so choose. This revised grievance policy should be in place no later than January 1, 2004.
    4. Food staples, particularly those needed by children, (such as milk, juice, cereal, bread, peanut butter, etc.) must be available and easily accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Furthermore, La Casa must prominently post (in English and Spanish) a clear policy on food availability and accessibility. This policy should be provided to DOSW by June 1, 2003.
    5. Anti-racism training must be provided to all staff and volunteers who work with clients. Training must be provided by January 1, 2004.
    6. We recommend that DOSW conduct another site visit in July, 2003.


    Just sayin’.

  • @Ann: Actually, it could be looked at another way. DA Gascón didn’t want to try Mirkarimi, not because he was afraid to lose, but politically it was better for all if Mirkarimi plead guilty. The DA gave Mirkarimi a break by letting him plead to an offense where Mirkarimi could still carry a gun and therefore, still carry out his duties as a sheriff.

    @ Chickens Roosting: I am not sure what hearings held 9 years ago has to do with a billboard supporting anti-domestic violence. Actually, one good thing about the Mirkiarim-Lopez matter, it put a much needed spotlight on domestic violence.

  • Myrna

    I think some intrepid reporter should look into the relationship between Beverly Upton and Eric Jaye – I think Kathy Black just got caught up in something much bigger – they all did – and she is just getting it where she is vulnerable and has been for years.

  • DavidinSF

    Those who live in glass houses………(Kathy Black)
    Suggestion: FCJ should investigate and report to its readers the dollar amount of San Franciscans taxpayers money that has been wasted on the Mirkarimi witch hunt.
    Someone needs to be held accountable, as this is the crime – not Mirkarimi’s argument with his wife.

  • Paul Hogarth

    Oh please, Luke … this is much ado about nothing. So a few Cunnie campaign people gave $250 to fund the billboard. Did they have an ulterior, partisan motive?? Maybe … But it’s not like these people are right-wing conservatives who have been bad on domestic violence, or woman issues in general.

    In the mid-1990’s, the National Organization for Women tried reaching out to Paula Jones (who, of course, had accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment) because they believed every woman should have their voice heard. She never returned their call, because she was too busy hanging out with right-wing Christian conservative groups who have an awful track-record on women — and who had a partisan agenda against the President.

    Sorry, I don’t see the same thing happening here …

    • marcos

      If Paul Hogarth, Randy Shaw or Kathy Black’s meal ticket was predicated upon their attacking Ed Lee and Chris Cunnie, they’d do that just as fast. One thing that we can say about the nonprofit sector is that when their cash flow is predicated on the vicissitudes of politics, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

      This is how corporate power corrupts progressive politics through cooption.

  • @Paul, thank you for the background info on Paula Jones and her relationship to “right-wing Christian conservative groups,” but no where in this report is such a parallel drawn or nexus made.

  • Re what David said:

    “Suggestion: FCJ should investigate and report to its readers the dollar amount of San Franciscans taxpayers money that has been wasted on the Mirkarimi witch hunt.
    Someone needs to be held accountable, as this is the crime – not Mirkarimi’s argument with his wife.”

    Many people have called for such an investigation, whether by FCJ or someone else. If the hourly cost of Georges Gascón, Ed Lee, Dennis Herrera, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn, the Ethics Commissioners, and the Supervisors, if it comes to that, and all their staff, and their expenses, could be tallied, I imagine that San Franciscans might ask why pre-trial diversion wasn’t considered. I believe that Gascón could have given Ross a choice between anger management classes with the possibility of charges pending until he completed them and his right to a speedy trial.

    That would most likely have helped Ross’s family instead of putting them through this agony, public humiliation, and expense, and it would have spared the rest of us. It also might have circumvented the obsessive distraction of the press, who, as Randy Shaw wrote in January, were making this their main issue in every press conference that newly elected Mayor Ed Lee held. I’m not in the habit of attending the Mayor’s press conferences, so I don’t know whether this is still true now, in mid-April.

  • DavidinSF

    Luke, truth does not like the light of day.

  • Just today I discovered the City Attorney’s office has 4 deputy city attorneys working on this case. However, we will not know the total man-hours spent on this prosecution until the case is resolved in full.

  • BTY, I’m assuming that Ross and his legal team did not appear this morning to contest the tentative ruling, which I copied off the Court website and posted here last night: http://www.anngarrison.com/content/tentative-ruling-in-mirkarimi-vs-city-and-county-of-san-francisco

    I.e., I’m assuming that, if Ross and his team had appeared, I would have heard about it by now. I couldn’t see much point to contesting Judge Kahn’s ruling, since it was not a ruling on the merits of the case, but a ruling that the motion was untimely, and would not be timely until after the Ethics Commission and Board procedures had run their course.

  • But, I’ll be returning to FCJ to see if I’m wrong.

  • The writ was argued today and denied. More on this later.

  • Frank

    Nice title, do you think that Mirkarimi supporters should have supported the billboard, if not I think that it is only logical that it would be someone who didn’t support him that would contribute. However, having said that I do believe that “New World Order” people are behind this and that it is indeed a conspiracy. Hi Ann, Nice to see you here, Go Mirkarimi!

  • Myrna

    @ Paul,

    Do you really think, Paul that these good folks would have donated thousands of dollars for billboards to Casa de Las Madres if NOT for the ulterior, partisan, motive? I think Luke is only beginning to document the paper trail, and I am looking forward to seeing where it leads….Whatever you think about the Sheriff and his actions, there is no question that there has been an orchestrated political campaign around it. The question is who – and I for one don’t think it has to do with domestic violence.