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ElectionsCampaign TrailNew Farrell corruption allegations could make case for inspector general initiative

New Farrell corruption allegations could make case for inspector general initiative

Peskin proposal (and mayoral campaign) may benefit from ongoing reports (and ongoing scandals at CIty Hall).


Just as more revelations emerge about mayoral candidate Mark Farrell’s campaign finances, including Matt Haney-style luxury spending of donors money and at least one possible conflict of interest, retired Judge Quentin Kopp has filed a complaint against Farrell with the Ethics Commission,

Kopp, who is a supporter of Mayor London Breed, filed the complaint June 27 arguing that a ballot measure Farrell supports and it working on “illegally laundered over-the-limit contributions to the Mayoral Committee” and that the ballot measure committee “failed to disclose subvendors to obscure the scheme.”

Mark Farrelll faces yet another Ethics Commission inquiry. Campaign promo photo

From Kopp:

I realize that Ethics Commission investigations take months and even years to complete. However, given the imminent implications of this flagrant attempt to launder money through a ballot measure committee to get around campaign contribution limits and influence the outcome of an important election, I must urge that the commission prioritize the investigation.

The gist of the complaint: Farrell has set up a committee to promote a ballot measure sponsored by TogetherSF that would cut the number of city commissions to 65. The group said today that it believes the measure has qualified for the November ballot.

It’s legal to raise unlimited money from big donors for an initiative campaign, but not for a mayoral campaign. But records show that some of the money coming from the likes of GOP donor Bill Oberndorf to the initiative campaign were used for shared office space and apparently shared payroll with the official Farrell for Mayor committee.

Farrell, of course, says he has done noting wrong. In 2016, the Ethics Commission fined Farrell $191,000 for a similar violation. He ultimately settled the case for $25,000, admitting no wrongdoing.

Farrell is also under scrutiny for coordinating his campaign with TogetherSF.

The Ethics Commission is way underfunded and understaffed, so it’s unlikely anything will happen before the election.

But the whole situation brings campaign and political corruption to the fore in the mayor’s race, which could help Sup. Aaron Peskin, a longtime anti-corruption leader and the sponsor of a measure that would create an Office of the Inspector General.

Among the new revelations: Farrell solicited money from the owner of a bar called Mayes Oyster House just days before appointing him to the Small Business Commission.

From Josh Koehn’s story in the Standard:

Farrell’s campaign said he did not solicit contributions from Recology and Mayes Oyster House, and he had no role in the Planning Commission’s unanimous vote to allow the restaurant to remain open every night until 2 a.m. That same week, Farrell stepped down from the DCCC.

However, in one of Farrell’s final acts as mayor in June 2018, he appointed one of the restaurant’s owners, Matt Corvi, to a seat on the city’s Small Business Commission. The two men now serve on the board of the Olympic Club Foundation, which is connected to the private golf and social club that has hosted multiple U.S. Opens.

Meanwhile, Recology was involved in a scandal that involved bribing Mohammed Nuru, the now-convicted former head of the Department of Public Works. Nuru’s payments scam included money to the San Francisco Parks Alliance.

Mark Farrell’s wife, Liz, is on the board of the Parks Alliance. So is Kanishka Cheng, the head of TogetherSF.

What a small town, indeed.

Peskin is making an issue of this:

“This is exactly the sort of situation that an inspector general would be looking into to see if any laws were broken,” Peskin told me.

In theory, the Ethics Commission would already be doing that. So would the District Attorney’s Office. Neither has used their considerable power to investigate public corruption. In fact, the whole situation is a reminded of how easy and painless it is to violate campaign-finance laws; paying, as Farrell did (with donor money) as $25,000 fine for actions that helped change the outcome of an election (he won his supe seat by 250 voters, and went on to become interim mayor) becomes just the cost of doing business.

Nothing here required a subpoena or wiretaps; it was all public record. Josh Koehn just read the reports, as good journalists do.

But you would think that the ethics watchdogs at City Hall and in the DA’s Office would be doing the same thing. With all due respect and credit to Koehn, who broke a big story and did some independent investigative work, the major evidence here is not that complicated. An ethics or DA investigator could get all the data in a few hours.

The fact that none of that happened is, perhaps, the best case for an inspector general.

Full disclosure: My son and daughter both work for the Peskin for Mayor campaign.

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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