The dirt in D6

Pub date October 24, 2006

› › If you live in San Francisco’s District 6, it’s pretty difficult to avoid what some residents are calling a new filth polluting Tenderloin corners and SoMa streets. It’s not overflowing trash bins or urine-stained door frames — it’s the relentless election billeting that uses those images to support Rob Black and oppose Chris Daly for the district’s seat on the Board of Supervisors. “We’re tired of talk. Of loud, whining, condescending, offensive, abusive, lying, showcasing, arrogant talk,” reads a recent poster on a telephone pole. “District 6 is dirty and dangerous. District 6 is still poor. Chris Daly is why. Dump Daly. Back Rob Black.” “I was totally offended by this,” Debra Walker, a progressive activist and resident of the district for 25 years, told the Guardian. “This kind of message intentionally suppresses the vote. People I’ve talked to in the district who aren’t very political are totally turned off by the mailings from Rob Black or made in his benefit.” Some of the mailings, posters, and literature can be directly attributed to independent expenditure (IE) committees recognized by the Ethics Commission and acting legally. Some, however, have more dubious ancestry but apparent links to a campaign attorney with a long history of using millions to control the outcome of elections in San Francisco: Jim Sutton (see “The Political Puppeteer,” 2/4/04). Sutton did not return calls for comment. Most of the anonymous literature directs people to the Web site SFSOS’s Wade Randlett told us his group paid for the site and a volunteer set it up. SFSOS and Sutton formed Citizens for Reform Leadership 1–6 — IE committees listed on many of the signs and much of the literature, including the poster quoted above. The committees haven’t filed any IE reports with the Ethics Commission. Walker, along with Maria Guillen, vice president of SEIU Local 790, and another District 6 resident, Jim Meko, submitted a complaint with the Ethics Commission on Sept. 29 with nine pieces of physical evidence supporting their concern that the roof had been blown off the $83,000 spending cap on the campaign, in place because all candidates agreed to public financing. The evidence submitted with the complaint varied and included three different mailers from “Concerned Residents of District 6,” a committee that has yet to exist on paper in the Ethics Commission filing cabinets. The mailers from the “Concerned Residents” are glossy triptychs critical of Daly but not explicitly advocating for another candidate. They do not state the amount the committee paid for them, which is required of any electioneering communication. On Oct. 6 the Ethics Commission released a statement saying the spending cap for District 6 was no longer in effect. John St. Croix, executive director of the commission, has identified at least $90,000 in IEs, including three unreported mailers. “At some point we will attempt to determine who distributed the mailers,” St. Croix said. “But it’s not likely before the election.” The tactic of breaking the law before the election and taking the heat after the ballots are in has been used in the past, and this new example flouts recently passed legislation. These mailings should have been filed with the Ethics Commission, according to an ordinance passed in 2005 in response to similar anonymous hit pieces that came out in the elections of 2003 and 2004 against Supervisors Gerardo Sandoval and Jake McGoldrick. (Sutton defended SFSOS’s main funder, Donald Fisher, in his successful Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation against Sandoval over the issue.) “It’s a strategy taken straight from Karl Rove’s playbook,” Meko, a 30-year SoMa resident, told us. Joe Lynn, former Ethics Commission member and staffer, told us “all the committees in San Francisco should turn their backs on contributions from people who are involved in this scheme — at least until they explain their involvement. These are the most sophisticated folks in San Francisco politics. I think a full investigation including possible criminal activity ought to be assigned to a master.” He said District Attorney Kamala Harris used Sutton in her race and therefore may have a conflict of interest. The Rob Black for Supervisor committee claims no connection to the literature that hangs on doorknobs and clogs mailboxes, the push polls calling people, or the postings in the streets and tucked under windshields. “I don’t support the anonymous pieces. If people are doing it on my behalf, I don’t want it,” Black told us. But Daly told us “the IEs appear to be coordinated…. The Black committee is not running a campaign that would be independently competitive. He’s only sent one piece of mail, but he’s had eight sent on his behalf.” Residents suggest it’s even more than that: Walker received three more anti-Daly mailers Oct. 20. Black confirmed that he had only sent one mailing to the district, and he’s “not surprised” that so many IEs have sent out mailings in his support. With the exception of a filing from the Police Officers Association, the only legal IEs reported with the Ethics Commission so far are from the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA) and Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA). They also trace back to Sutton, Black’s former boss at Nielsen Merksamer, a law firm that represented PG&E in the 2002 campaign against public power, for which the firm was fined $100,000 for failing to report until after the election $800,000 from PG&E, the biggest fine ever levied by Ethics. Sutton left the firm shortly after. Black stayed on until 2004, when he took a position as legislative aide with Michela Alioto-Pier. The most recent poll released by Evans McDonough purports to show Black ahead by six points (with a five-point margin of error). It was commissioned by Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter, and Partners, which has also been employed by Sutton through BOMA and the GGRA for the IEs in the District 6 election. The financial shenanigans have been a rallying point for the Daly campaign. More than 70 volunteers signed in at an Oct. 21 rally and hit the streets: shaking hands, distributing literature, and making phone calls raising support for Daly. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi criticized the soft money’s “ugly, nasty, mean-spirited tactics” to oust Daly. “If they have to resort to these tactics, is that the kind of government we want in San Francisco?” he asked the crowd. “This is the nastiest, most personal and hateful thing I’ve ever been involved with,” Daly said. “It’s very painful.” But, he said, “our people power is better than their money power.” Outside a volunteer shouted into a bullhorn, “Don’t let downtown interests buy your democracy!” SFBG