Guv candidate Gavin Newsom eligible for $48,000 campaign donations

If you've got a soft spot in your heart for Gavin Newsom — and, say, $48,200 burning a hole in your pocket — the mayor would like to speak with you. Now.

Newsom officially created his “Newsom for California Exploratory Committee” earlier this month, a move explained in the media as a necessary step for the mayor to begin raising funds for a possible run at the statehouse in 2010. Left largely unsaid was what kind of funds Newsom could now command: Far from the paltry $500 donors are allowed to give San Francisco candidates, gubernatorial hopefuls are entitled to $24,100 for the primary and again for the general election.

You don't have to be a good-government activist to feel uneasy about the notion of a sitting mayor being able to rake in this sort of money. But it helps.

“I don't like it. It makes it look like the city's for sale,” said Joe Lynn, a former member of the San Francisco ethics commission.

So, what's to keep donors who have current or pending business with the city from making out those checks? Well, the city's Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code prevents “contractors doing business with the city” from handing money to San Francisco elected officials. Yet Eric Jaye, Newsom's longtime political adviser, said these rules don't bind the mayor's campaign for higher office, even as he sits in San Francisco City Hall.

Nonetheless, Newsom's campaign Web page says he doesn't want a dime from “persons who are negotiating contracts with the City of San Francisco subject to mayoral approval or who have received such a city contract within the last six months.” “That was completely voluntary,” explains Jaye.

Andrew Shen, a deputy city attorney, sees things differently. He argues no city officeholder is entitled to take money from parties who require his or her approval to receive a city contract — even if the donation was intended to support a run for state office. John St. Croix, the executive director of San Francisco's Ethics Commission, agreed: “A banned contribution is a banned contribution.”

That came as news to Jim Stearns, a consultant who ran Supervisor Tom Ammiano's successful primary race for the Assembly last month. He sided with Jaye, noting he and Ammiano never even discussed banned donors: “The city cannot tell state candidates how to raise money. Only the state can tell them that.”

So what does the state say? Not much. Roman Porter, a spokesman for the Fair Political Practices Commission, says he can't comment on a situation the commission hasn't ruled on.

As for whether Newsom would make any other “voluntary” concessions such as not taking money from those enmeshed in San Francisco's permitting process or limiting the dollar amount he would accept, Jaye was lukewarm to the idea.

“Some people would approve of it,” he says. “But you'd raise less money.”

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