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News + PoliticsElectionsGOP-linked big money attacks progressive candidates and taxes in SF

GOP-linked big money attacks progressive candidates and taxes in SF

Millions in PAC money from the 1 percent -- and big Mitch McConnell backer -- floods into San Francisco for last-minute hit pieces.


A group of rich real-estate and tech interests and at least one big GOP donor are raising more than $5 million to attack the progressive taxes on the SF ballot and defeat supervisor candidates opposed by Mayor London Breed.

The attacks, while not surprising, are stunning in their expense, lies, and ferocity.

One of the biggest donors to the effort is William Obendorf, a wealthy hedge-fund manager who has donated more than $1 million to the Republican Party to keep Mitch McConnell in control of the US Senate. He is a strong supporter of charter schools, an ally of Betsy DeVos, and put almost $50,000 into the anti-homeless measure Prop. Q in 2016.

Obendorf pictured as the head of the Besty-DeVos-linked Federaiton for Children, which promotes charter schools.

He has given $300,000 to Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, the new PAC that so far has funded hit pieces on D5 Sup. Dean Preston, D7 candidate Vilaska Nguyen, and D11 candidate John Avalos, Ethics Commission records show.

All of those candiates are opposed by the mayor.

“This is the massive Republican big-money attack on San Francisco Progressives that Trump has been begging for,” said John Elberling, who runs Todco, a nonprofit housing developer. “These are the people destroying America. and now they are aiming directly at San Francisco.”

A big donor who gave $1 million to keep Mitch McConnell in control of the Senate is trying to buy a San Francisco election.

As is often the case with big money, the trail is a bit complicated. There are at least three different independent-expenditure groups involved in the effort — but they are all connected.

One, which is funded almost entirely by commercial real-estate interests, is the Committee for Economic Recovery, sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. It appears that one of the key fundraisers for that effort is Oz Erickson, who runs the Emerald Fund, a local developer.

In an Sept. 22 email to other big developers, which I have obtained, Erickson said that he had collected $2 million in cash and had $2 million in commitments to defeat the progressive taxes on big business:

Maybe we have enough now to take out the transfer tax, but how about the gross receipts tax?  How about the CEO tax?  The more money we raise, the likelier we will be to succeed in all our efforts.  Do you owners of big office buildings want more McKessons and Schwabs in your lives? Further move-outs? There are no guarantees, but the more money we get, the more likely we will be able to run efficient campaigns not just to oppose the profoundly anti-labor transfer tax but also the gross receipts tax and perhaps even the CEO tax.  …

Folks, we are all in this mess together.  If we don’t succeed, these taxes will spread across other jurisdictions like wildfire. What do you think the deficit looks like in LA? If we win, we won’t set a precedent for the rest of the country, and all of us can work together with the city to come up with an appropriate response to meet the city’s current needs.

An “appropriate response,” of course, that doesn’t involve wealthy developers paying any more taxes.

“We scare the hell out of them calling for fair taxes on Big Wealth. We directly threaten their greed, and they know it,” Elberling said. “They know what starts in San Francisco can spread throughout California, and then the nation.”

That committee has already been putting out inaccurate mailers about the impact of Prop. I, the transfer tax on high-end property, on small business.

Then there’s the committee backed by Obendorf, which is called Neighbors for a Better San Francisco. It has raised close to $3 million, according to Ethics Commission records, and is funded largely by people in the real estate, finance, and big-tech industries.

The Chamber of Commerce group gave $110,000 to Neighbors for a Better San Francisco.

There’s also a committee called the San Francisco Workforce Housing Alliance, which is funding some of the hit pieces on Preston. It’s entirely funded by Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, Ethics Commission data shows.

So what we have here is a cadre of big real-estate, finance, and big tech trying to take out the progressive majority on the Board of Supes (and install candidates closer to the mayor) and block any new business taxes that impact big business and real-estate.

And they are doing it with nasty attacks – and in some cases, relentless bashing of homeless people.

Let’s start with D7, where Vilaska Nguyen is running in what appears to be a three-way race with Myrna Melgar and Joel Engardio. Breed has endorsed both Melgar and Engardio.

The attacks on Nguyen are based on the fact that he is a public defender. Public defenders represent people accused of crimes, sometimes terrible crimes; that’s how the criminal justice system works. I don’t think there are many people in San Francisco who oppose the idea that people who don’t have money have the right to a lawyer, and that those lawyers should defend the interests of their clients.

When you are a public defender (unlike a private lawyer) you don’t choose your clients.

In this case, a jury acquitted the 24-year-old of using a misguided tagger name.

Nguyen, as a senior trial lawyer, has represented a lot of people who are facing prison for serious crimes. The big-money folks picked one case and are using it to attack him. There are, of course, many more people he has represented who were accused of crimes.

Then we go to D5, where the anti-homeless rhetoric is out of control. The ads from the GOP-allied group are attacking Preston – who was one of the leaders in the effort to get homeless people into hotel rooms, a move the mayor opposed – because of homelessness in the Haight.

“We’re not going to be deterred by these sleazy attacks,” Preston told me. “We’re fighting back. I think this kind of Republican smear tactic should be denounced by every Democrat in San Francisco. D5 voters don’t take kindly to being bullied by Republican billionaires.”

And in D11, the attack on Avalos focuses on problems his mayoral campaign had with the Ethics Commission, which mostly had to do with his own problems keeping track of the money he raised.

“I cooperated fully with the Ethics Commission,” Avalos told me. “They ruled that no money was mis-spent and I paid my fine. I learned my lesson, hired a great professional treasurer who has kept our campaign records in order.”

There is nobody in public life who can’t be attacked for something they have done, and that’s why these independent-expenditure campaigns are so disturbing. None of the other candidates in these races have to take responsibility for the attacks or be accountable for their accuracy. It’s all outside money.

It’s money from the 1 percent, some of them GOP allies, who want to stop progressive taxes and put a Breed-friendly majority on the Board of Supes.

And the attacks have just begun.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


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