Cash oils the city's political machine, even at its lowest levels

Nancy Pelosi is easily the most powerful San Franciscan — the Speaker of the House of Representatives is, after all, third in line to the presidency. But hometown politics are not lost among her lofty concerns of state: Pelosi has a horse in the race for the local Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), granting her endorsement in yesterday's election to her former Capitol Hill staffer, Alex Volberding.

Who the hell is Volberding? The legislative aide to Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is an unknown. But for someone who hasn't run for elected office, he seems to be killing it (or was, until yesterday's polls closed; SF Weekly went to press before results were tallied). He secured endorsements from Pelosi and Mayor Gavin Newsom, and banked more than $20,000 in campaign contributions — all to win one of 22 unpaid positions that do little more than send e-mail alerts, endorse candidates and ballot measures, and host voter registration drives.

Volberding has spent more on his race than any of the 12 incumbents hoping to retain their DCCC seats in the 12th Assembly District, which is most of the city's west side. But compared to the east side of town in the 13th District, he has raised chump change. There, three candidates — DCCC chairman Aaron Peskin, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, and Supervisor David Campos — raised more than $100,000 between them for their DCCC bids, nearly as much as all 33 candidates in District 12 combined.

While once unheard of, it appears that aggressive fundraising is now a requirement for DCCC candidates. That's a daunting task, Volberding says, and all the more for someone lacking close ties to power brokers like Pelosi or Peskin. The latter has been accused of using the DCCC to create a progressive political machine and staging a coup when enough Peskin allies won enough seats in 2008 to remove then-chairman Scott Wiener from his post.

Of course, it's hard to have a true machine without the executive branch of government, something the lefties have yet to capture. And of the crime of raising cash themselves, moderates are equally guilty. In 2009 alone, Wiener raised more than $50,000 for his 2010 DCCC bid. The money Peskin and Co. raised was divided among the entire progressive slate.

So why fight to get on the DCCC? Peskin points out that with a party endorsement worth double-digit swings at the ballot boxes, those with aspirations for offices from supervisor to mayor must woo the DCCC as well as their would-be constituents.

Yet Peskin says the notion of a machine is propaganda. “S.F. is a liberal town that votes liberally,” he says. “The position of the DCCC is the same it's been for decades. What you're seeing is a push from conservative people to turn it conservative.”

Good luck, Volberding.

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