Despite anti-corruption rhetoric, the incumbent “Social Justice Democrats” continues to play games with party governance. A new generation of grassroots activists is fed up.
San Francisco’s Democratic Party establishment is soundly progressive, and being so, they routinely and righteously focus on what they see as corruption in politics. Progressive Supervisor Gordon Mar’s recent shepherding of Proposition F, a campaign finance measure passed by voters, and which recently survived a lawsuit, is a good example.
But Mar and his colleagues are now involved in some electoral questions of their own, regarding the race for the local Democratic Party’s County Central Committee. He’s one of many elected officials running for a seat on the party body - using his name recognition to beat out grassroots candidates for positions supposedly dedicated for grassroots activists to do grassroots work for the party. Sadly this is not a new thing.
Back when the incumbents did this in 2017, not only were well-known electeds like Mar’s brother, then-Supervisor Eric Mar, running for party seats as ringers, they were also quitting those seats shortly upon election, allowing Chair David Campos to appoint replacements, and keep a lock on power.
This year, Mar is running for DCCC on a “Social Justice Democrats” slate with Supervisors Matt Haney, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton, and Public Defender Mano Raju. All these folks are already pretty busy - Raju runs a crucial City Department; how’s he going to have time to do County Committee work?
The reality is, he isn’t. Unlike state and federal officeholders who automatically get a seat on their local Committees, Raju, as an elected member, can’t have a permanent proxy. Sooner or later, he’ll most likely quit and let Campos appoint his replacement.
But the ringer game isn’t the only problem. They’re also running a campaign finance shell game at the DCCC.
According to Section 5 of the Committee bylaws, “No person other than a candidate shall make, and no campaign treasurer for a candidate committee shall solicit or accept, any contribution which will cause the total amount contributed by such person to such candidate committee in an election to exceed $500.” Candidates can self-fund their campaigns, but they can’t accept donations over $500. But the rule apparently isn’t enforced. Many “Social Justice Democrats” are flagrantly breaking it.
Ronen has also taken her share of four-figure donations, including a $5000 donation from the Deputy Sheriff’s Association.
Then there’s former Supervisor Jane Kim, who, according to her initial filings, took $1000 from slumlord Dipak Patel. This was clarified in a later filing to reflect two $500 donations from Patel and a family member.
Former Supervisor and current BART Director Bevan Dufty has also taken a $1,000 donation from Patel.
Why raise so much cash for a Central Committee race? So you can move it around, of course. It can be banked for future or even current allied campaigns. Many on the Social Justice Democrats slate have donated to a recipient committee, the SF Social Justice Democrats PAC:
Enough cash that some of their slate-mates, like Public Defender Raju, might not need to raise any money at all. Their first slate mailer hit mailboxes in the 17th AD this past weekend, with the disclaimer “THIS ADVERTISEMENT WAS NOT AUTHORIZED OR PAID FOR BY A CANDIDATE FOR THIS OFFICE OR A COMMITTEE CONTROLLED BY A CANDIDATE FOR THIS OFFICE.”
Walton and Dufty appear on the mailer, and they each contributed $1000 to the committee.
Grassroots candidates have become restive at the culture of impunity at the DCCC. Candidate Steven Buss has filed Ethics Commission complaints against Walton, Ronen, Kim, and Dufty. He’s also part of a group of candidates that have submitted an initiative for the November ballot that, if passed, would prohibit local elected officials from running for party committees.
“These sitting Supervisors campaigned on finance reform but have shown they’re willing to bend or flagrantly break the rules for their own benefit. The hypocrisy of this and the corruption in City Hall is why so many people are frustrated with City government and the local party,” says Austin Hunter, another DCCC candidate involved in the effort.
It’s interesting to note that Hunter, along with Walton and Ronen, is one of three top fundraisers in the DCCC race. Except, of course, he hasn’t taken any donations above $500; most are around $100.
Meanwhile, Buss has also taken aim at the “League of Pissed Off Voters,” one of the more Known Unknown Quantities among Progressive front groups. The revelations here, as well as the DCCC shenanigans, are predictably hopping on Twitter:
(Calls to Supervisor Mar and Public Defender Raju were not returned by press time.)