Unbalanced Budgeting

The city's proposed parking-rate increases are a scandal. They aren't nearly large enough.

"It was in the 1999 race, and the actual runoff race was pretty frantic," recalls Esther Marks, Ammiano's 1999 campaign treasurer. "Most of the staffing at the three campaign headquarters was volunteers. I did give the instruction that any money that came in, we had to deposit it in the checking account. But there were emergencies that came up where volunteers had to run out and make certain purchases. They took cash that came in and went out and bought it."

Viewed from a certain perspective, Ms. Marks' assertion that the use of the cash was innocent, rather than venal, seems reasonable. As long as campaign members didn't steal, divert, or otherwise misuse the money, it's plausible to describe the campaign's cash economy as a technical violation of the letter, rather than the spirit, of campaign finance regulations. There exists an equally reasonable yet different perspective, though: Regulators would have been remiss if they'd allowed Ammiano's campaign to violate laws limiting the use of cash. After all, $5,800 is a large petty cash drawer.

News of Ammiano's fine for events in 1999 might not even be worth mentioning in a 2005 opinion column if Ammiano hadn't spent much of last month as a protagonist in another dispute involving differing opinions about campaign finance. In the current controversy, Ammiano passionately backed his old campaign consultant and contributor, Eileen Hansen, in her candidacy for a position on San Francisco's Ethics Commission, the city enforcement agency that's supposed to punish people when they do things like violate campaign finance law by maintaining bloated petty cash drawers.

Hansen has donated more than $1,000 to Ammiano's political campaigns and has received a few thousand dollars in payments as a consultant to those same campaigns. When Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier pointed out that Hansen could potentially seem biased as she weighed possible punishment for old political allies, Ammiano was heard saying that opposition to Hansen's candidacy was tantamount to a "smear campaign and a witch hunt."

Ammiano's rhetoric seems overcooked, especially in light of his recent fine.

If Hansen had been a member of the city's Ethics Commission when it discovered Ammiano's $2,100 in cash transactions during a recent audit, would she have recommended the $2,500 fine? Would she have sent the matter to state regulators? Or, as a highly sympathetic Ammiano ally, would she have supported ignoring the matter? It's a question that nobody asked during the deliberations over Hansen's appointment, because Ammiano hasn't publicly acknowledged his fine, levied in January, until now.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.