Power Brokers R Us
Judging from the latest reports filed by city lobbyists, San Francisco's leading influence-peddlers aren't yet open for business in this year's mayoral race. Only a half-dozen or so out of nearly 50 lobbyists have contributed to any of the four leading mayoral contenders.
That's a major change from most election years -- mayoral or supervisorial -- because lobbyists have a tradition of early backing for the incumbent, who can still affect their business. Lobbyists maintained this tradition by sending checks to Supervisors Carole Migden and Kevin Shelley, who are candidates for Assembly seats in an election that is still nearly a year away. Both Shelley, who received $6,500, and Migden, who received $5,100, were blessed with more funds from lobbyists than any of the four mayoral candidates.
Incumbent Mayor Frank Jordan received an uninspiring total of $4,750 in the first six months of his re-election bid. Even this total is misleading, since $2,000 of it came from four legally separate entities of Chevron, and $750 more came from the SF Baseball, Ltd partnership in a contribution to Jordan's 1991 campaign committee. Jordan is trying to clear the debts of his last campaign by raising money for it as he simultaneously fund-raises for his new campaign. Jordan, you remember, is being audited by the state Franchise Tax Board at the request of the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Speaker Emeritus Willie Brown got a $2,000 check from the Pacific Stock Exchange -- but the money went to Brown's Assembly committee, not his mayoral fund. Roberta Achtenberg got $100 from an employee/lobbyist at powerhouse firm Solem and Associates, while Angela Alioto got nary a dime from any of the city's lobbyists.
"We usually go with the incumbent," says one lobbyist who asked not to be named. "But this year it looks like a different candidate will win. I think you'll see the money begin in September" when new polls come out.
Despite the slow pace of lobbyist giving, this still appears to be shaping up as the city's most expensive mayoral campaign in history.
The reports from the candidates themselves don't have to be filed until July 31, but each campaign has offered an advance spin on what will be found when the envelope is opened. Clint Reilly, Jordan's campaign manager, says Hizzoner will have raised about $700,000. That doesn't count, apparently, what he had to shuffle into the 1991 committee debts. Brown says he will have raised about $200,000, and Achtenberg's managers say she will have raised about $130,000.
Jordan, need we be reminded, sued to keep a new law from going into effect that would have limited him to spending about $1 million in this year's contest, claiming he intended to raise as much money as he could.
As for the lobby reports themselves, it's clear that Supervisor Terence Hallinan's rewrite of the city's 1988 law adding new disclosure requirements smoked out -- for the first time -- some of the city's biggest companies engaging in City Hall lobbying. (Not that they weren't lobbying before -- they just didn't have to tell us under the former law's requirements.)
"It shows the importance of that kind of legislation," says Hallinan. "A lot of people ridicule you for trying to dot those i's and cross those t's, but it shows the public what's really going on."
It turns out that most of these companies were in the lobby pool just for a quick dip during the last three months, pumping up the budget of a new group -- San Franciscans for Sensible Government. No sooner had these companies registered, having written a check to the new group, than they filed papers terminating their statuses as lobbyists.
San Franciscans for Sensible Government, whose contributors nearly match the companies that report contributing to the Committee on Jobs, took the laurels for the fattest bank account. The interested public won't divine the real amount by reading "Sensible's" report, which states it spent only $2,165.23 (the Committee on Jobs reports spending a total of just $9,712.89 to influence City Hall in the past three months; internal documents show the group's total budget for the year actually is close to $500,000). A total of 13 other companies that register lobbying activities report having paid $121,378 to "Sensible" in the past three months, and it is certain that other companies that aren't registered lobbyists also contributed. The biggest giver was Bank of America, which dropped a $20,000 check into the coffer. PG&E, Pacific Bell, and Wells Fargo each put in $14,600 -- an interesting use of ratepayer money on the part of the two utilities.
This large bank account for lobbying is of more than academic interest. "Sensible" is a pro-business, anti-tax coalition that aims first to kill off Supervisor Tom Ammiano's proposed tax increases, and then to form a new political alliance to affect San Francisco policies across the board. It is both an offspring of the Committee on Jobs and an evolution of that committee's earlier stated purpose, which was to shift San Francisco's political fulcrum to further leverage business interests. The Committee on Jobs hoped to build a coalition of downtown businesses, homeowners, and the lesbian and gay community around a common goal and jointly dominate the city's policy agenda.