Stealing an election — and more

Pub date October 25, 2011
WriterLarry Bush

OPINION The emergence of apparent voter fraud that mars San Francisco’s mayoral election rightly resulted in calls for a federal investigation and federal monitors. It’s not the political interests of rival candidates that are at issue. It is the consequences of a dishonest election process for our city and its future.

Almost exactly 20 years ago, the McArthur Foundation, home of the genius awards, recognized the Democracy Index for showing the connection between voter participation and election and campaign reforms. The group found that the greater the transparency in political contributions, the stronger the protections against pay-to-play politics, and the greater protection against voter fraud, the higher voter participation climbed.

Today it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that sleazy tactics, end-runs around campaign rules, and dubious voting schemes do as good a job suppressing voter interest as the Republicans did in Florida in the 2000 election victory of George W. Bush, or poll taxes did in the past.

In this year’s mayoral election, we appear to be headed toward the bottom of a slippery slope. Campaigns hungry for advantage aren’t slow to recognize loopholes; soon a loophole becomes a strategy. What follows then is to push the envelope over the line. A candidate’s honorable intentions too quickly fall prey to the politics of convenience.

This year, with an interim mayor pledged not to run for election and thus avoid the entanglements of political self-interest, the expectation was raised high.

“My goal is to restore the trust in the mayor’s office of the past,” Mayor Ed Lee said in an interview just two weeks after assuming office.

In the ensuing months, Lee’s posture changed. He would be no better than the minimum standard required in the law, he said in his interview with the San Francisco Examiner.

He would not release the names of his finance committee, he claimed that a Run Ed Run effort was blameless after the Ethics Commission found a loophole that left them outside the city’s campaign laws, he complained that keeping track of contractor contributions was burdensome paperwork that he should be spared, and he maintained a close relationship with the leaders of independent expenditure committees while insisting he knew nothing of their activities.

When new tools can provide citizens with near instant access to everything from when the next bus comes to restaurant inspection scores, Lee’s campaign is supported by efforts that are deliberately opaque, designed to misinform if not to mislead.

Clearly this is not a mayor trying to leave the city, or its political process, better than he found it.

A 2011 mayoral victory under fraudulent terms would make everyone a loser, regardless of candidate preference.

It’s not just an election that might be “stolen” by unethical or illegal manipulation.

We would be defrauded of what we are entitled to have: the chance for all of us to forge a better future for the city without our optimism shattered by dishonest, unethical practices. That should not be sacrificed for anyone’s political advantage…

Larry Bush publishes citireport, a journal of politics and money