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News + PoliticsElectionsThe stunning Big Money trying to buy SF's election

The stunning Big Money trying to buy SF’s election

Latest filings show huge cash infusions in district supe races from people who also oppose property-tax reform.

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I’ve been a political reporter in this town for almost 40 years, and I don’t think I have ever seen such a blatant attempt by outside big-money forces to buy an election.

Image from Brennan Center

The $5 million that’s come in from Big Tech, Big Real-Estate, and backers of the GOP is a stunning attack on progressive candidates and their agenda.

The latest filings with the SF Ethics Commission show just how crazy it’s become. The various committees connected to Neighbors for a Better San Francisco has spent more than $150,000 trying to defeat Vilaska Nguyen in District 7 and to elect Joel Engardio. They have spent more than $80,000 attacking Connie Chan and supporting her main opponent in District 1. More than $50,000 has gone into attack ads on Dean Preston in D5.

Who are these folks? Here’s a clue: Recent filings show they also donated $50,000 to No on 15, the effort to block property-tax reform (which almost every elected official in San Francisco supports).

Why are the likes of William Oberndorf, who is a major GOP donor and promoter of charter schools nationwide, putting up all this money to determine who is the supervisor in D1 or D5 or D7?

Why would Robert Reniers, a retired Sun Pacific Marketing exec who lives in Hailey, Idaho, put up $100,000 to try to change who’s on the SF Board of Supes? Why would three members of the Fisher family who live in Redwood City put up $150,000?

I can only think of one reason: Someone in the Big Money world who supports Mayor London Breed and her agenda organized this. Breed really wants to get rid of the “extremely left group of people” on the board and install supes who are more friendly to market-rate housing development and the tech industry and less likely to push for higher taxes on the rich

I have no smoking gun email to show that any Breed ally is coordinating with the right-wing money folks. But if there’s another reason for them to come in at this level in this way, I can’t think of it.

Maybe it’s a national effort to shut down progressive politics in US cities; if SF can raise taxes on the rich, that may spread.

Whatever it is, nobody is being honest about it. The mailers and attacks are all from groups that have no local leadership, nobody to hold accountable.

Never mind that the donors include people who want Mitch McConnell to stay in power in the Senate, that some of them support policies that almost nobody in public office in San Francisco could tolerate.

Their money is just fine if they are helping the mayor’s candidates and defeating “the left.”

And what makes it all so tricky is that this year, the progressives have a harder time doing their usual level of people-power door-to-door organizing, which in the past has defeated big money.

Of course, it’s not clear how much this last-minute attack-mailer strategy is going to work: As of four days ago, almost half of the voters in San Francisco had already turned in their ballots. Most of the actual campaign work, by actual candidates (from all political perspectives) started months ago.

We will see in the next week how much Big Money still plays in San Francisco.

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 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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