Mark Leno Pac Man

If you can't tell...Mark Leno is Pac Man.

As yet another SuperPAC intercedes in the 2018 Mayor’s race, Mark Leno’s effort to make campaign finance a major issue seems to have run away from him.

Mayoral candidate and former State Senator Mark Leno has made “SuperPACs” and independent campaign expenditures a major issue of his campaign. In January, he issued a “Fair Campaign Pledge” to among other things “publicly denounce, renounce, and reject all independent expenditures made on my behalf or against any other candidates”.

In February, Leno held a press conference calling for all candidates, including front runner London Breed, to again denounce independent expenditures by political action committees. This was after the It's Our Time political action committee, supporting Breed, released an online video ad decrying the recent removal of the Board of Supervisors’ President as acting mayor, and appointing Interim Mayor Mark Farrell, as a “dirty political maneuver.”

PAC spending has become such an overarching theme of Leno’s campaign that during a recent debate when asked to address the City’s housing crisis, his answer pivoted back to the campaign spending issue.

The problem is that as of now, all three major candidates, including Mark Leno, now have Super PACs slinging on their behalf.

After signing onto Leno’s anti-PAC pledge, it turns out Jane Kim has benefited from almost $200,000 in independent expenditures from SEIU Local 1021, her repudiation of those efforts notwithstanding.  

The most recent embarrassing (and perhaps teachable) moment over the issue just took place over the weekend, when yet another independent expenditure committee, “San Francisco for All of Us” financed by UNITE HERE Local 2 and Equality California, threw their hat in for Leno with $43,000 worth of online video ads. This came a day after Leno wrapped up yet another press conference denouncing another independent expenditure for Breed. 

The reaction from Leno’s campaign was swift and unambiguous, but ultimately powerless:

“Senator Mark Leno has a great respect for Equality California and UNITE HERE Local 2.” replied Zoe Kleinfeld, spokesperson for Leno’s campaign.  “As before, however, he asks that each organization encourage its members to participate in his campaign by respecting the $500 contribution limit and not engaging in independent expenditures on his behalf.”

Meanwhile, Samuel Garrett-Pate, speaking for Equality California, offers a rationale for differentiating their effort from other SuperPACs:

"We're excited to support Mark Leno's historic candidacy to become San Francisco's first openly LGBTQ mayor because he'll tackle the city's biggest challenges and fight for bold solutions that give everyone a shot at success. We share his support for campaign finance reform and aspiration for elections where ideas matter more and money matters less. Hardworking San Franciscans — not deep pocketed millionaires — should choose the next mayor. That's why we're committed to evening the playing field through our positive campaign."

But what does that mean for Leno’s pledge, which has become a signature of his campaign? If some independent expenditures are acceptable, but others aren’t, the blanket disavowal becomes meaningless. Since independent expenditure committees are legally prohibited from coordinating with campaigns, Leno effectively has no power to stop the Super PAC spending beyond his public statements. 

At press time, UNITE HERE Local 2 did not return requests for comment.

Our data columnist Andy Mullan has crunched the numbers and weighed the polls. Come debate, discuss, and predict the winners and losers of San Francisco's June election with us at our Primary Election Pick'em! It’s a great way of learning what’s on the June ballot!

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