Report: Nov. 2018 Supervisor Elections Most Expensive In City History

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For Immediate Release: March 19, 2019                                                                    

News Release

REPORT REVEALS NEARLY $7 MILLION SPENT ON NOVEMBER 2018 SF SUPERVISOR ELECTIONS –

MOST EXPENSIVE IN CITY HISTORY

Exploding Corporate SuperPAC spending fueled skyrocketing campaign costs; nearly one-third of all spending in Nov. 2018 Supervisor races was by SuperPACs; nearly twice as much was spent in Nov. 2018 by SuperPACs than by public financing

            An analysis of the data in a new report by the San Francisco Ethics Commission shows that $6,847,035 was spent on the November 2018 elections for five seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, making it the most expensive Board of Supervisors election in San Francisco history.  The new data also shows that, in the November 2018 Supervisor elections, over $2.1 million – the most ever – was spent in “third-party spending” and “independent expenditures,” mostly by SuperPACs funded by real estate developers, tech executives, and big corporations, which have been permitted to raise and spend unlimited amounts since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and a related decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in SpeechNow.org v. FEC (2010).  

            This November, San Francisco voters will vote on a ballot initiative to limit “pay-to-play” campaign contributions and give voters more information about who is behind SuperPAC campaign ads.  The “Sunlight On Dark Money Initiative” is sponsored by former SF Ethics Commission Chair Peter Keane and former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.  The initiative was put on the ballot by Supervisors Gordon Mar, Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Sandra Fewer, and Rafael Mandelman. 

            “As big money continues to flood San Francisco elections, voters rightfully wonder whether City Hall is working for the people or for wealthy campaign donors,” said former SF Ethics Commission Chair Peter Keane.  “The Sunlight On Dark Money Initiative empowers voters to increase transparency and strengthen accountability by shining a spotlight on who’s really trying to buy our elections.”

            The new SF Ethics Commission report, entitled “Report on San Francisco’s Public Campaign Financing Program, June 5, 2018 and November 6, 2018 Elections,” was released at a meeting of the SF Ethics Commission on March 15, 2019.  The data presented in the report covers campaign disclosures and reporting in the June 2018 special Mayoral election, the June 2018 special election for the District 8 Board of Supervisors seat, and the November 2018 election for Board of Supervisors seats in District 2, District 4, District 6, District 8, and District 10.

            An analysis by the Sunlight On Dark Money campaign of the Ethics Commission report data and of historical data in previous Ethics Commission reports finds:

        June 2018 Mayoral election findings

  • A total of $8,434,473 was spent in the June 2018 special Mayoral election.
  • SuperPACs spent $2,370,428 (28%) of the overall funds in the June 2018 Mayoral election, making SuperPAC spending a higher portion of overall campaign spending than in any previous SF Mayoral election.
  • 68% of the SuperPAC spending was on behalf of London Breed or on negative ads attacking her opponents. 21% of the SuperPAC funds were spent to support Jane Kim.  11% of the SuperPAC funds were spent to support Mark Leno.  No SuperPAC funds were spent on negative ads against London Breed.

        November 2018 Board of Supervisors election findings 

  • A total of $6,847,035 was spent in the November 2018 Supervisor elections, more than was spent in any previous Supervisor elections, including Nov. 2016 ($6,036,554), Nov. 2012 ($4,494,347), and Nov. 2010 ($4,994,484).
  • SuperPACs spent $2,135,765 (31%) of the overall funds in the November 2018 Supervisor elections, more SuperPAC spending than in any previous Supervisor elections, including Nov. 2016 ($2,130,147), Nov. 2012 ($1,507,057), and Nov. 2010 ($1,305,460). SuperPAC spending ($2,135,765) in the November 2018 Supervisor elections was nearly twice as much as the amount of “clean money” public matching funds ($1,205,965) received by candidates who participated in the city’s public financing program.
  • 83% of the SuperPAC spending in the November 2018 Supervisor elections was in the races of two of the five Supervisor seats up for election: District 4 (Sunset) and District 6 (Tenderloin, South Beach, South of Market).
  • In District 4, SuperPACs spent more money to influence the outcome of the election than the actual candidates spent on their own races – only the second time this has ever happened (the first was the 2016 District 11 race). SuperPACs spent $866,491 on the District 4 election. 78% of the SuperPAC spending went to back Jessica Ho or attack her opponents. 22% of the SuperPAC spending went to support Gordon Mar or attack his opponents. SuperPAC spending in the District 4 election was more than three times the amount of public financing dollars spent by candidates in the race ($278,513).
  • In District 6, SuperPACs spent $905,198 to influence the outcome of the election, more money than in any other 2018 Supervisor election. 78% of the SuperPAC spending went to back Christine Johnson and Sonja Trauss. 22% of the SuperPAC spending went for Matt Haney or against his opponents. SuperPAC spending in the District 6 election was more than three times the amount of public financing dollars spent by candidates in the race ($280,646).

 

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