A big and very expensive shoe just dropped in the District 6 supervisor’s race, and friends of Ron Conway did the dropping. An anonymous Super PAC donation of $100,000 has upended the contest, targeting SFUSD school board commissioner Matt Haney and supporting his now teamed-up opponents Sonja Trauss and Christine Johnson.
While there were $100,000 PAC donations in the June mayoral race, this particular check for a hundred grand is by far the largest contribution yet in any of the November supervisor contests.
As we see from the Facebook post above, this $100,000 donation was filed by a group calling themselves San Franciscans for Change, Supporting Johnson & Trauss for D6 Supervisor 2018. But reading further down the form, we see the check actually came from Progress San Francisco — the Ron Conway-backed Super PAC that is curiously headquartered in Sacramento, and is not required to list its donors.
“This is not a grassroots movement for change. These are powerful people who want to protect their interests, they are the status quo,” Haney tells SF Weekly. “The idea that they would call themselves San Franciscans for Change is cynical and ridiculous.”
But rival campaigns point out that these Super PACs, technically known as “independent expenditure” committes or IEs, are not in any way affiliated with their campaigns or their messaging.
“The I in IE stands for independent,” candidate Sonja Trauss tells SF Weekly. “No candidates have control over what the IE’s do in their race. It is frustrating for voters to not know, when it comes to IE’s, who is paying for it.”
Haney agrees. “We don’t know who these people are, which is especially problematic,” he says. “They donate to a state PAC, and then the state PAC donates to a local PAC. What we do know is that this is likely a small set of very wealthy, very powerful people who want to influence the election so they can have access for their own financial interests.”
While San Francisco requires donors to be identified in campaign finance filings, California makes no such requirement of statewide PACs. That’s why Progress San Francisco is based in Sacramento, and why it does not have to disclose who contributed any of that $100,000.
These PACs cannot coordinate with the campaigns they support. But they can pour in unlimited amounts of money, and are usually responsible for the nastiest attack ads. So when you see election commercials and glossy mailings claiming that Matt Haney beats his dog, they might say “Paid for by San Franciscans for Change, Supporting Johnson & Trauss for D6 Supervisor 2018.”
But Trauss, who cannot coordinate or communicate with this independent expenditure committee, does not agreee with the theory that the PAC will employ attack ads.
“My guess about how they spend the money is that it’s going to be making sure people know that Christine and I are endorsed by London Breed, because London Breed is very popular,” Trauss tells us. “And a lot of voters don’t even know about who is in the race. It doesn’t really benefit us to increase out opponent’s name ID with attack ads.”
“What that means is people just have to evaluate what the message is,” she says, adding, “And that people should come to the debate on [September] 26th.”
NOTE: This post has been updated with comment from District 6 candidate Sonja Trauss.