Is the League of Women Voters Disenfranchising Candidates?

Written by Luke Thomas. Posted in News, Politics

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Published on August 14, 2012 with 9 Comments

The League of Women Voters says it is “Making Democracy Work,” but its candidate selection policy for upcoming League-sponsored forums appears to contradict its creed. Screenshot courtesy League of Women Voters.

By Luke Thomas

August 14, 2012

The 150,000-member strong League of Women Voters – whose motto is “Making Democracy Work” – sent an email Friday to candidates running for elected office in San Francisco telling them they are not welcome to participate in their upcoming forums unless they can demonstrate they are “waging a formal campaign.”

The email raises the question of whether the League’s policy is disenfranchising candidates and undermining democracy.

“Per League of Women Voters of San Francisco policy, candidate forums sponsored by the League are held to provide a forum for thoughtful discussion of important public policy issues,” wrote Jolinda Sim, Chair, Candidate Forums 2012 League of Women Voters of San Francisco. “The League also seeks to stimulate voter interest and participation in the electoral process with these events.”

To be considered for participation in a League forum, a candidate must have a publicly accessible campaign headquarters and/or website; a telephone number (other than a personal or home number) listed under the campaign’s name; a campaign bank account and campaign treasurer; and is certified eligible to receive public funds.

“All above criteria will be verified by a representative of the League prior to the issuance of invitations to candidates to participate in a Candidate Forum,” Sim added.

Only five candidates to date have qualified for public financing. These include David Lee who is running against incumbent District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar; and F.X. Crowley, Joel Engardio and Mike Garcia in the race to replace termed-out District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd.

Former Sunshine Ordinance Task Force Chair Hope Johnson, who is running to replace suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in the race for District 5 supervisor, said she is “disappointed” in the League’s policy.

“The League of Women Voters has decided to use the amount of donated money, regardless of its origin, as a criteria in choosing which candidates are allowed to debate,” Johnson wrote via email. “It is not democratic and allows special interests to dominate our supposedly democratic elections. Voters will be prevented from learning about and assessing all of their choices.”

“It’s also ironic that women voters would choose to disenfranchise candidates since women have been and continue to be disenfranchised in politics (you don’t see any female presidential candidates this year, do you?),” Johnson added.

Candidate for District 5 Supervisor, Hope Johnson, was one of eight candidates invited to participate in a recent debate/forum sponsored by the District 5 Democratic Club. Photo by Luke Thomas.

Former SF Democratic Party Chair and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, also responding the League’s missive, wrote, “During my tenure in local political office the League was truly been an unbiased medium and clearing-house for information for the electorate.”

“While I am a strong supporter of public financing, I respectfully submit that basic democratic principals dictate that any and all candidates in a supervisorial race should be included in any and all debates sponsored by the LWV. Anything less would be less than democratic,” Peskin added.

A request to the League to explain its policy was not returned at the time of publishing.

Update, 3:54 pm: Citing an “inconsistency” in its email to candidates, the League has subsequently withdrawn its requirement that candidates be certified eligible to receive public funds.  In place of this requirement the League requires candidates to supply a “copy of registration with California Secretary of State as a formal campaign committee.”

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, a news website formerly covering local, state and national politics. In September 2006, Thomas launched 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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Comments for Is the League of Women Voters Disenfranchising Candidates? are now closed.

  1. District 7 should allow ALL candidates to debate, as Sean Elsbernd already backed Mike Garcia, and both other candidates FX Crowley and Norman Yee have sequestered larger organization backing. This should not equate neglecting to review other candidates such as Glenn Rogers, or Julian Lagos as they both have spoken against the Parkmerced project and should be allowed an opportunity to speak and go up against the other backed representatives. Its called democracy, and you need to allow ALL candidates in the pool party.

  2. Last evening’s Milk Club debate,

        LWV backed off their new exclusionary policies which would have kept 20 of 25 candidates off their stage.     That’s because Hope Johnson went straight at them as she’s done to tyrants large and small for years.   

        Sat front row aisle at last nite’s Milk Club debate.    Olague had the radar signature and demeanor of a bag lady.     Daniel Everett comes across as a tall, black and super muscular (think Terrell Owens)  …  Tom Cruise.    Thea Selby sounds like a housewife yelling out her back window to her neighbor (Ivory Madison?) who’s hanging laundry and has a mouth full of clothes pins.

        Rizzo just flat comes across as a weasel.     Reminds me of that little life form with the big ears who ran the ship’s store on Star Trek.     Rigenato (sp?) is bright and sincere but simply doesn’t have a grasp of the issues.

       That leaves Julian Davis and Hope Johnson (London Breed hadn’t shown up by halftime when I slunk out to watch the last half of the Giants/Nationals (we win 6-1).     Johnson was always brilliant and articulate and thoughtful.     She’d make a great supe and Davis is as polished and confident as a skilled heavyweight in a championship match.  

    I’ll dig around and see if there’s a tape of the whole thing floating around on the internet and y’all send me a link if you have one.    Tony De Renzo was filming some drag queens in another venue so we’ll have to catch as catch can.

    No secret here.    I like Hope first with her 3-legged cat and heart-on-sleeve vulnerability and brilliance.     Julian has been running for this seat since 2004 and has the best chance to unseat the mayoral appointee.    

    Giants vs Nationals 12:35pm today.    Lincecum against Strasburg.    Whoa!


  3. “The email raises the question of whether the League’s
    policy is disenfranchising candidates and undermining democracy.” I think
    it just shows how money is corrupting good judgment. Is it that they think we
    can’t handle a larger group of candidates? Do they simply have no tolerance for
    candidates who might be more unusual than your standard-type personality? At
    the 2004 Mayoral League forum, there were many candidates, and it was more
    interesting because of it. This issue is reminding me of chain stores taking
    over “the neighborhood”.


    “The League also seeks to stimulate voter interest and
    participation in the electoral process with these events.” They have succeeded
    early this time. As a voter whose submitted question they chose to ask the
    candidates in that 2004 Mayoral Forum, I am now officially
    “stimulated” and will “participate” early too in the form
    of a complaint about this policy. I want to hear all my candidates!! 

  4. Triple,

         Fog City doesn’t have employees.   It has friends.   No one I know ever made a nickel off of being published by Luke.     And, keeping the whole thing going has cost him years, energy and many millions of dollars.

    OK, it didn’t cost him a bunch either.

    Fact is, Fog City is by far the most independent political voice in SF.

    Point of piece was about shutting out poorer candidates.

    How you feel about that, ‘Triple’?


  5. Why is this quoting only one candidate, showing the face of only one candidate?

    Kind of falls below standards of journalism.

    And since Hope Johnson is a former employee of Fog City Journal, don’t you think that deserves disclosure?

    Kind of falls below standards of ethics.

    Seems like you’re just trying to do a favor for a former employee and get her name and face in a headline.

    • @cdff04d4f62e0fbce471641ca7ba6a52:disqus – Part of the reason I am quoted is because I was the one who brought The League’s decision on this to the attention of people who might be concerned.

      Also – just to clarify: there are female presidential candidates this year; I meant you don’t see them from the two major parties and being included in the debates.

      • So, did FCJ not bother to seek additional comment from anyone else, for some reason?

        Or are you the only one of the 25 supe candidates who is concerned about this?

        •  @cdff04d4f62e0fbce471641ca7ba6a52:disqus When I see you also complain to the SF Chronicle and SF Bay Guardian that they reference only the same three or four candidates repeatedly, then I will take your complaint here seriously.

          Otherwise, it appears you are just upset your favored candidate doesn’t have the lock on the media you thought he/she had.

  6. Yeah,

        This started last year in D-6 when Jane Kim and Debra Walker agreed to shut out the poorer candidates.    Only the League of Women Voters welcomed all.    Not anymore.

    This is more evidence of a Downtown stranglehold over local government.    They don’t like it when the Sunshine Task Force does their jobs and pushes agencies to obey the law and allow citizens access to public records.      Now they’re making certain the candidate who most recently led the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force is not allowed to participate in their forum.  

    So, with the help of this same Jane Kim they shut the SOTF down (they back in business yet?) and replaced the candidates of bodies legally mandated to choose appointees to the SOTF with their own rubber stamps.    Dennis Herrera has been the single biggest obstacle to open government in San Francisco using his staff to teach departments and agencies how to avoid obeying the Sunshine Ordinance.   

    It is illegal to shut candidates out of a venue if you are a non profit.     Jordanna Thigpen was nice enough to research this for me last year and we’re digging up the appropriate files now.   

    Did you know that Thigpen waited in a line 4 years long to secure an invite to run a marathon?

    In Antarctica?

    Call my friends anything you want.

    But, never boring.

    I couldn’t get a lawyer to take the case of myself and the other minority candidates.

    Maybe this year we will.

    Less and less public input and access.

    The 1% are winning.

    Giants game last night reminded me of my third marriage.

    Don’t ask why.