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.
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.”