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ElectionsCampaign TrailCampaign Notebook: Mahmood's ethics (and PR) problem, huge billionaire money ...

Campaign Notebook: Mahmood’s ethics (and PR) problem, huge billionaire money …

... and a new organization tracking the plutocrats. Our weekly roundup of news about the March election.

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Bilal Mahmood, who is running for both Democratic County Central Committee and District 5 supervisor, is having trouble keeping the campaigns separate—which is required by law.

Candidates for DCCC can take unlimited campaign contributions; candidates for supervisor can’t take more than $500 from any individual. So using money donated to a DCCC campaign for a supervisorial campaign is a potentially serious violation.

Bilal Mahmood admits a mistake—but blames it on an underling. Image from his website.

So: Mahmood sent out a district-wide mailer for his DCCC campaign (and that’s expensive stuff), which included the Bilal for Supervisor logo. Here’s what he said about that:

The Ethics Commission will investigate, and possibly levy a fine, but the damage is done: Mahmood used some of the large chunks of money he’s received, including from Garry Tan, to promote his campaign for supervisor.

And here’s the thing: I have been to many seminars on political communications, and talked to many experts on damage control, and they all agree—Step One is to take responsibility. Don’t blame an employee.

A “consultant” who made the “mistake” worked for Mahmood. But Mahmood is responsible for screening, training, and supervising the people he hires. His comments just make this whole thing look worse—particularly when his online ad talks about ending “the excuses and finger-pointing.”

He just made excuses and pointed fingers.

The billionaires are really, really trying to buy San Francisco. Just one person—Chris Larsen, the executive chairman of Ripple, whose wealth is estimated at more than $50 billion—has poured more than $2 million into conservative candidates and causes, including $100,000 to elect Chip Zecher to the Superior Court.

Zecher hasn’t been in a courtroom in some time, the Chronicle asked him what this was about:

When asked why he was running for judge, he cited a call from District Attorney Brooke Jenkins for someone to run against incumbent judges.

It’s pretty widely known in local political circles that Larsen is a big fan of Mayor London Breed, and gives money to causes she supports. Bred hasn’t formally endorsed candidates in the judicial race, but it’s hard to deny her direct connections here.

Zecher also has $20,000 from Republican-donor Bill Oberndorf, $10,000 from plutocrat Ron Conway, and $25,000 from—yes—the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

Interestingly, the San Francisco Bar Association, which issues independent evaluations of judicial candidates, ranked both incumbents, Michael Begart and Patrick Thompson, as “well qualified.” Zecher and fellow challenger Jean Roland didn’t respond to the BASF questionnaire, so got no rating. I have never in 40 years as a reporter seen candidates for judge decline to participate in the BASF process.

Among Larsen’s other big checks: $500,000—yes, that’s a cool half million–to the Yes on E campaign. Prop. E would override the Police Commission and allow more surveillance (including drones), more high-speed chases, and less information about the use of force against people of color. He’s given $200,000 to Prop. F, which would mandate drug screenings for people who seek welfare payments from the city.

This, people who actually understand the reality of the life of low-income people say, will increase homelessness in the city. (I also have to ask: How many tech CEOs would pass a drug test if their income required it? Just saying.)

Those initiatives are Breed’s pet projects, designed not to solve any problems in the city but to boost her dwindling prospects of getting re-elected.

He’s also given a stunning $100,000 to Marjan Philhour for DCCC. That’s entirely off the charts for an election to the Democratic Party’s policy body—but Philhour is also running for District 1 supervisor, and contributions to a supe campaign are limited to $500.

A big ad blitz with her name on the West side of town would be a major benefit to her supe campaign. It’s legal, but a huge loophole in the law.

Oh, and by the way: he also gave $20,000 to the Bilal Mahmood for DCCC campaign. See above.

The right wing of the mayor’s race keeps getting more crowded. Now the SF Standard reports that Mark Farrell, a former conservative supervisor from D2, is going to join the race. If that’s true, then Breed, Daniel Lurie, Sup. Ahsha Safai, and Farrell will all be fighting for votes from the right. Breed, Lurie, and Farrell don’t have a lot of policy differences.

The progressive lane is wide open.

There’s a new organization that’s going to be monitoring the billionaire attack on San Francisco. It’s called the Phoenix Project, and its stated goal is to shine a light on the dark money network of special interest groups funded by a handful of tech and real estate billionaires.

From the group’s press release:

The Phoenix Project will track organizations like Grow SF, Abundant SF, Together SF and Neighbors for a Better SF, investigating and publicizing their true funding sources as well as the hidden agenda of their major donors. These groups have raised and spent at least $17 million in the last three years, using loopholes in campaign finance law to hide much of their true source of funding and donors. 

“We have tracked down and will continue to follow the true source of funds and the real agenda of these organizations,” said Jeremy Mack, who will serve as Executive Director of the Phoenix Project. “According to our research, 70% of the total funding for these interconnected groups comes from just 20 extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, who have a net worth of over $21 billion.” 

“The phoenix is a potent symbol of San Francisco’s remarkable history of resilience in the face of adversity,” said Julie Pitta, a retired journalist from the Richmond District who will serve as President of the Phoenix Project.  “Although they masquerade as public interest groups, the agenda pushed by these shadowy organizations prioritizes corporate gains over our city’s needs – compromising public school funding, rent control, and affordable housing development.”

From the looks of things so far this year, they are going to be busy.

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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