Behind the ‘dark money’ in the DA’s race

There's a grassroots committee for Chesa Boudin, with some unlikely donors; Suzy Loftus is making it an issue. Here's what's really going on.

Suzy Loftus, a candidate for district attorney, just sent out a fundraising email complaining that a “dark money” group is pouring money into the DA’s race — and one of the donors also gives money to Republicans:

A dark money independent expenditure campaign was just created to support Chesa Boudin, and one of the largest donors is a major financial backer of former Wisconsin Governor and notorious union buster Scott Walker, and Prop 32, the 2012 ballot measure in California that attacked our unions.

That struck me as odd: I always argue that big campaign money functions less as a bribe (although in some cases, there’s some of that) but as an indication of which candidate certain individuals and interests think will be most likely to help them. In the last mayor’s race, we quickly learned that the tech and real-estate moguls thought London Breed would be best for them. In the current D5 race, it’s pretty clear that the real-estate money is hoping Vallie Brown will defeat Dean Preston.

Apparently, some big donors (including Rebublicans) think the criminal justice system needs major reforms and they are supporting a Chesa Boudin IE

Boudin is by far the most left-leaning candidate in this race. Why would Republican donors want him to be DA?

So I did a little research, and there’s an interesting story here.

There is, indeed, an independent-expenditure committee for Boudin. I suspect there will soon be one for Loftus, too, since she has the support of the mayor and with that often comes big money.

But it’s not one of those shadowy IEs that funneled big tech money into the mayor’s race (in ways that were difficult to trace.) The Youth and Families Taking Power Supporting Chesa Boudin for SF District Attorney is not shuttling campaign dollars through a series of both state and local front groups with confusing names to hide the real donors. It’s a pretty simple IE that has already fully disclosed everyone who has given it money.

That, of course, is how Loftus was able to discover that George Hume, the heir to the Basic American Foods fortune (his dad basically invented instant mashed potatoes), gave $20,000 to the pro-Boudin IE.

Nichole Derse, a campaign consultant working for Loftus, told me that Hume has given $108,000 to Republicans in his lifetime. According to federal and state election filings, he gave money to Walker. And to GW Bush.

He also, the filings show, gave money to Barack Obama. And to Hillary Clinton. And to Dianne Feinstein. And to Scott Wiener. And to London Breed. And to Buffy Wicks (who Derse helped get elected to the state Assembly). He appears to be shifting his donations a bit; he was a bi-partisan donor (as a lot of big-business folks can be) but since Trump was elected, he is giving mostly to Democrats.

His wife was one of the earliest donors to Suzy Loftus for DA.

So why is Goerge Hume supporting Boudin – and what’s up with this IE?

For starters, the IE is being run in part by by Kevine Boggess, who represents two grassroots organizations fighting for working class communities of color and to end the school-to-prison pipeline: Coleman Action Fund for Children and San Francisco Rising Action Fund. So it’s hardly a right-wing anti-labor conspiracy.

From Boggess:

As a Black San Franciscan raised in the OMI, I’ve seen firsthand the suffering caused by police brutality and locking up our youth instead of giving them the support they need. We are very transparent about why we support Boudin; he’s the only candidate who will be an independent leader to reform the DA office, stop discriminatory policing, and keep all our communities safe. Boudin’s track record speaks for itself—he’s the strongest on protecting immigrants from ICE, ending cash bail which unfairly keeps poor people locked up, and does not waver on his position to close Juvenile Hall. Ending mass incarceration is a bipartisan issue, and he’s got support from the grassroots to the big donors.

Also: It didn’t take much work to find out that Hume’s daughter is a public defender in San Francisco. As is Boudin. So for all his support for Republicans, he seems to have a real interest in criminal justice reform.

Derse told me that Leslie Hume, who is married to George Hume, did indeed give the maximum local contribution to Loftus. “She is her own person, and she has never given to a Republican,” Derse said. “If George Hume had given us money, we would have returned it immediately.”

I asked her if Buffy Wicks had returned Hume’s money, and she said:

This is about the campaign that is happening for DA in San Francisco now. I am sure that Chesa’s campaign is trying to divert attention from the fact that he has a large independent expenditure funded by a Republican who has tried to take down labor unions. We understand that George has given to other Democrats but Chesa should still answer for this. Is he ok with this support?

Was Wicks okay with this support? Was Breed, Wiener, Feinstein, Clinton, and Obama? Apparently.

Boudin told me – correctly – that he has nothing to do with the IE, and can’t accept or reject anyone’s support. That’s the big problem with IEs – they are not legally accountable to candidates.

But in this case, I don’t really see Boudin as someone who the Republicans and anti-labor folks generally see as the best choice. He has the support of the most progressive labor unions in the city, including SEIU Local 1021 and AFT Local 2121.

There are also, it appears, some wealthy folks who think that we need to turn the current criminal justice system on its head. And they think he would be more likely to do that than the other candidates. That’s what I take away from this.