The Grid

Honest Shaft
Last December, campaign consultant and Yber-lobbyist Jack Davis took one of his clients, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, to visit representatives of another client, Home Depot, the megaretailer of household-improvement products.

The mayor was not in need of a tool belt or a tube of grout. Rather, the outing -- a visit to the Home Depot store across the San Mateo County line in Colma -- was meant to persuade Brown to drop his opposition to the company's desire to open one of its massive, ugly, partly orange outlets in San Francisco.

Although massive, ugly, and orange, Home Depot had strong fiscal arguments on its side. Half of its Colma patrons are from San Francisco. If they shopped in a Home Depot here, the sales tax on their purchases would fatten the San Francisco treasury.

Moreover, Home Depot was offering givebacks. If allowed to develop its store, the company agreed, it would make $3 million of permanent improvements to Pier 80, home to a closed Port of San Francisco cargo terminal.

But Home Depot wasn't taking chances that the public policy advantages of the offer would be sufficient, in themselves, to sway Brown. So, the firm did something political.

It paid Davis, the mayor's chief campaign strategist, a $30,000 fee to make the company's case to the mayor himself. And you'll never guess what happened. Soon after his visit to the Colma Home Depot, Willie Brown became a convert.

He is now one of Home Depot's biggest backers.
"He had a very positive experience there," Davis says of Brown's visit to Colma, "and changed his mind."

The role of the campaign manager/lobbyist is about to get some close attention in San Francisco. Supervisor Tom Ammiano intends to unveil a retooled version of legislation vetoed last year by the mayor. The legislation aims to end a phenomenon -- campaign managers who hire themselves out to lobby the very elected officials they recently helped into office -- that does, indeed, have sordid aspects.

Of course, the proposed law would also be an obviously unconstitutional infringement on the free speech and free association rights of a small group of people Ammiano and a few of his soul mates dislike intensely.

But why quibble about the Constitution when an opportunity to screw Jack Davis, Robert Barnes, and John Whitehurst is at hand?

To be sure, campaign managers and lobbyists who cross-dress, changing from one into the other at the drop of an election, present the body politic with a glaring potential for conflict of interest.

These politicolobbyists gain enormous leverage over both their public- and private-sector clients. They become the middlemen in those chains of events -- the sleazy trading of legal favor for legal favor to get an illicit result -- that Boss Tweed once called "honest graft."

Businessmen and businesswomen bow before the politicolobbyists, believing (not unrealistically) that their unrivaled access can cause the government to do things that will help the men and women who do the business.

The officeholders, meanwhile, believe (not unrealistically) that hiring campaign managers who already represent deep-pocketed business clients will increase campaign contributions flowing to the men and women who hold, or want to hold, the offices.

The abuses of the politicolobbyists clearly extend beyond the Willie and Jack show.

There was, for example, the push by a certain city supervisor (Leslie Katz) for a ballot measure that would have paid off big for big cab companies. As it happens, the taxi industry was at that time being represented at City Hall by a lobbyist (Robert Barnes) who also happened to be running the supervisor's re-election drive.

As Abbott and Costello asked, "Who's on first?"
Then, there was the decision by Board of Supervisors President Barbara Kaufman to block a timely audit of San Francisco zoo finances. The audit might have complicated the life of Kaufman's campaign strategist, John Whitehurst, who was also managing the campaign for a $48 million zoo bond measure.

So, you see, it is all happening at the zoo.
Supervisor Ammiano is absolutely aghast at these monkeyshines.
"The electorate wants this to stop," the supervisor aghasts, vowing that if his anti-politicolobbying bill -- called, ever so humbly, Honest Elections -- fails to pass the Board of Supervisors, he'll make it a ballot initiative.

And when Supervisor Ammiano aghasts, everybody should listen.
Well, let's qualify that.
Ammiano's Honest Elections legislation deserves the support of everyone who believes that:

1) The local press corps is incapable of employing the most basic of public records to keep tabs on the mayor and the supervisors, and

2) The First Amendment of the Constitution should be suspended when there's a chance to jack with people you don't like.

Ammiano's legislation would make it illegal for any elected officeholder or candidate for office to hire a registered City Hall lobbyist to run his or her campaign.

It would also bar anyone from hiring a campaign manager who has already signed up to handle the race of another candidate or ballot measure in the same election cycle.

To make sure the field of campaign consulting is rendered financially unrewarding and legally treacherous, the legislation allows for penalties of up to $5,000 per breach, and gives civilians the right to file lawsuits against supposed violators. And if the citizens win, they get to recover their attorney's fees and take home half of any penalties imposed against the offending officeholder candidate or campaign guru.

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