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Floating Around Restrictions

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June’s mayoral race is long over, but candidates somehow kept racking up donations for weeks after we already knew the outcome. Sup. Jane Kim still pulled in more than $15,000 despite having already finished in third place, and Mayor London Breed received more than $110,000 in contributions after she’d been declared the winner.

But those Breed donations — more than half of which have already been spent on a 2018 Pride parade float and a DJ to rock its decks — may have violated campaign-finance laws. According to Ethics Commission filings, six of Breed’s post-win donors had already donated the maximum allowable $500 donation earlier in the campaign.

The checks were all curiously made out to the defunct Re-Elect London Breed for Supervisor 2016 committee, for an election from two years ago. But Breed’s long-inactive 2016 committee immediately received $10,000 once she won the mayor’s race, a quarter of which is from 2018 donors who’d already committed their $500 maximum.

A complaint filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission calls this “a scheme to circumvent the voter-approved $500 campaign contribution limits.” The Ethics Commission did not return comment for this article, but SF Weekly has learned that the commission has indeed opened a preliminary review into the matter.

A preliminary review does not confirm that any laws were broken, it simply acknowledges the commission is reviewing a credible possibility of campaign finance violations. And we should take into account that the complaint was filed by Jane Kim’s mayoral Campaign Manager Jon Golinger, who is not exactly a neutral party. Breed’s campaign sees this as nothing but sour grapes.

“This complaint is an attempt to harass the mayor whose campaign committees each raised contributions within the $500 per contributor limit under San Francisco law,” Breed Campaign Attorney Jessie Mainardi says in a statement.

But Golinger sees this sudden resurrection of Breed’s 2016 committee as an unprecedented slush-fund loophole maneuver to get around the legally mandated $500-per-person campaign contribution limit.

“What I’ve never seen is, years after an election is over, candidates using that old committee to raise new money,” Golinger tells SF Weekly. “They’re not paying old debt but buying new campaign materials, buying floats in parades, paying new campaign workers, and raising new money to pay that off.”

Of course, Kim’s campaign has also pulled in thousands in late donations long after the mayor’s race was over. But they point out that they didn’t do this through some ancient 2016 campaign committee, but in an above-board way, through the Jane Kim for Mayor 2018 account.

“In politics, it’s as common as kissing babies,” Golinger says of the post-election contributions. “In the weeks or months after an election, many if not most candidates have some debt to pay. That’s money they spent getting out the vote or on last-minute ads. So they have to do a fundraiser or make some phone calls after the election.”

A fancy Pride parade float does not seem to fall under the jurisdiction of paying off old campaign debt. And this isn’t the first time Breed has paid for her Pride float with a sudden windfall of donations to a years-old, dormant campaign fund.

A San Francisco Examiner report from January of this year found that Breed used a similar maneuver to pay for her 2017 Pride parade float. She pulled $7,000 from her Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) campaign, even though that DCCC election in question had happened more than a year prior.

Breed shut down that DCCC committee shortly after the Examiner report hit the newsstands. And true to form, the defunct Re-Elect London Breed for Supervisor 2016 committee that paid for this year’s Pride float was terminated Aug. 1 — the very day Golinger submitted his complaint.

But that doesn’t mean the mayor is finished with fundraising. The Re-Elect Mayor London Breed 2019 campaign officially submitted its filing papers last Thursday, and is now accepting contributions for the November 2019 election.

Joe Kukura is an SF Weekly contributor.
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