Suspicious Loophole Money Swamps SF DCCC Race
While the legal limit to San Francisco political campaign donations is just $500, the somewhat obscure SF Democratic County Committee DCCC race in the March 3 California primary vote has candidates gaming a loophole and taking checks for thousands more. A Broke-Ass Stuart investigation into campaign filings at the SF Ethics Commission found that some politicians are raking in checks as large as $5,000, because the SF DCCC is “toothless” in enforcing its $500 campaign contribution limit.
The SF DCCC has a toothless rule meant to individual campaign contributions at $500. It can't be legally enforced, so it's often ignored under the guise of "I have to be competitive to win." Still, it's a way to embrace the spirit of "getting money out of politics." 1/
— Dominic Fracassa (@DominicFracassa) January 15, 2020
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The SF DCCC bylaws are pretty clear that candidates cannot take contributions that exceed $500. But that’s just a recommendation, frankly, and it’s not technically “illegal” to take larger donations, it’s just highly unfair to other candidates who follow the rules. But a 2015 48 Hills exposé found that candidates were hoarding money into their unregulated DCCC campaigns, and then ‘flipping’ the money into the stricter, more highly regulated Board of Supervisors campaigns. The worst abusers of this loophole are people who are already on the Board of Supervisors, and up-and-coming candidate Cyn Wang told the Bay Area Reporter this week that “many of these elected officials are running with the explicit intent to win and resign, while others use it to build campaign slush funds and/or reward friends and punish enemies.”
The biggest exploiter of the loophole so far is District 17 candidate Supervisor Ahsha Safai, whose DCCC campaign filings show a $5,000 contribution from the Teamsters Local 350 — ten times the committee’s contribution limit! So far this year, Safai has taken well more than a dozen checks for $1,000 or $2500, generally from unions like various SEIU and IBEW chapters. Checks for more than the allowed $500 account for the vast majority of Safai’s $35,000 DCCC campaign war chest.
The Ahsha Safai for SF DCCC campaign did not return request for comment for this article,
Over in District 19, Bayview supervisor Shamann Walton’s campaign has raked in $3,000 checks from several different cannabis dispensaries. The above screenshots are from a Feb. 20 filing, and the big money comes from companies you’ve probably never heard of. But “Outer Sunset Holdings” is the parent company name of of the Sunset Barbary Coast dispensary, and “BCSF” is the same for the Barbary Coast on Mission Street. A separate Jan. 27 filing shows a $3,000 contribution from “FMSF, Inc,” which is really the Moe Greens dispensary on Market Street.
Supervisor Walton tells BrokeAssStuart.com that “I have never broken any campaign financing rules, and I would never do that.” He’s technically correct, as the Ethics Department’s County Central Committee financing laws do not contain any reference to a $500 limit. The $500 limit is in the DCCC bylaws, which are not the offical law of the city and county, but the vast majority of DCCC candidates do honor the $500 contribution limit.
For her part, supervisor Hillary Ronen’s DCCC contributions also has a $5,000 contribution from the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, along with three other contributions of $1,000 or more. Other candidates who’ve taken one or two checks of $1,000 or more include Bevan Dufty, Matt Haney, Tami Bryant, Carole Migden, Gordon Mar, and Abra Castle.
There have been several substantial ($1k +) contributions in the SF DCCC race since last week. (The first batch are in the thread below.) Here's an update:
— Dominic Fracassa (@DominicFracassa) January 21, 2020
These are the rules and the loopholes as they exist today, and clearly, sitting members of the Board of Supervisors are the ones gaming the DCCC’s rules most aggressively. But Bay City News reports that some DCCC candidates are submitting a ballot measure to prevent elected officials from running for the DCCC, saying they just “pad their pockets for future elections.”
We scrolled through hundreds of pages of campaign filings for this post, and we have to say that 95% of the DCCC candidates are totally playing by the rules and staying within the contribution limits. It’s hard to decide who to vote for in an election with 56 candidates, and one way to narrow the field might be to not vote for the candidates who are most egregiosuly breaking the rules.