Who are the ‘business interests’ in SF? Part III

When the media refers to San Francisco ‘business interests’ , about whom do they speak? This article is the fourth in a series exploring this question . We tackle the problem using the campaign finance data that SF political committees must file with the San Francisco Ethics Commission. The data shows the contributions and expenditures made and received and includes committees for individual candidates and for propositions, as well as data about individuals, corporations, and the vendors that spend the money, typically political consultants and lobbyist firms. This data is perhaps best viewed at whosfundingwhom.org, a site developed by some University of San Francisco students.

First, who is raising money? The top ten fundraisers consisted of three ‘proposition’ committees, four board of supervisor candidate committees, two business groups, and Newsom for Mayor.

The three committees designed to advocate for or against specific propositions were:

  1. Yes on A, Let’s Rebuild San Francisco Schools
  2. Save Laguna Honda Hospital: No on D.
  3. No on E: The Parking Tax

These committees all raised over $200,000, with Yes on A topping the list at $338,000. Though such committees target specific propositions, it has been speculated that some have more general goals or even target specific candidates. For instance, BeyondChron reported speculation that No on E really had a goal of getting Chris Daly out of office. In 2004, the Chronicle report, “CAMPAIGN 2004 – SAN FRANCISCO Contribution limits don’t crimp spending: Business interests funnel cash to aid certain candidates“, detailed how Donald Fisher’s ‘Yes on Citizenship, No on F’ committee spearheaded a smear campaign of supervisor Gerardo Sandoval when he ran for re-election. So in trying to figure out the landscape, one must consider these ‘proposition’ committees, with their huge bankrolls, to be major players, and perhaps playing for more than their name implies.

What people and companies are behind these efforts, monetarily? Businessman Warren Hellman was the biggest contributor to ‘Yes on A’, putting nearly $50,000 into it personally. Other contributors to Yes on A include Wells Fargo Bank, Bechtel Corporation, and Shorenstein Company LLC.

The top contributor to The No on D effort came from labor, the SEIU United Health Care Workers, who dropped $63,000 into the effort. They also received funds from Donald Fisher ($20,000) and the Turner Construction Company ($15,000) amongst others. No on E was supported by various parking companies as well as the Teamsters Union.

Proposition committees are also funded by business group committees, including the Committee on Jobs, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. The Committee on Jobs with both Fisher and Hellman as board members, gave $10,000 to Yes on A as well as over $40,000 to the No on C: Save Transbay committee that was targeting Chris Daly. The source of these Committee on Jobs funds? Top contributors were Charles Schwab, Inc., Hellman ($35,000), and PG&E and AT&T ($25,000 each).

Now one cannot jump to conclusions when following these money trails, but one might speculate that Schwab, Hellman, and the telephone companies don’t care much for Chris Daly. Similar trails exist with the BOMA Builder committees, who are funded by numerous smaller donations (TST Mission Street LLC was the biggest at $10,000) but, like the Committee on Jobs, also funnel money to No on C, No on E, and No on D, and even some directly to candidates such as Rob Black, Daly’s competition in District 6.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which is also funded by smaller donations, contributed directly to campaigns, including those of Black, Michela Alioto-Pier, Doug Chan, and Phil Ting.

So we’ve got ‘proposition’ committees and candidate committees which are funded by business interest committees, which are themselves funded by big mega-donors, big corporations, and smaller businesses. The next question: how do they all spend their money? A quick glance at the top payees at whosfundingwhom.org suggests that the majority of the money goes to political consultant firms. For instance, , $225,000 of the $275,000 the Yes on A committee spent went to BMWL Consulting.

And Yes on A is not alone. BMWL is the top payee for campaign funds in the city, raking in over $600,000. One might say they are the heart of the influence network, taking in a pool of money and dispensing out mailings, flyers, advertisements and whatever else is needed for their clients. Besides the Yes on A committee, their clients include No on C and the aforementioned more general business partnerships BOMA and the Golden Gate Restaraunt Association (GGRA).

What does it all mean? Were ‘business interests’ really out to get Chris Daly? Was Rob Black an innocent as these business interests thrashed his opponent? Are Hellman and Fisher running San Francisco?

Not sure, but hopefully this installment in our little study will at least shed some light on the political landscape. For more information, one can check the whosfundingwhom.org site, as well as opencampaigns.com, a wikipedia-like directory of San Francisco politicos.


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