Richmond Review

Minimal effect of ‘dark’ money on last election

by Thomas K. Pendergast

Records from one of the more expensive local political campaigns in recent memory, the supervisor race for the Richmond District, suggests that grass-roots organizing and community connections beat outside, or “dark,” money.

Funding records from the San Francisco Ethics Commission show that Sandra Lee Fewer, who beat out 9 candidates and won the office with 40 percent of the vote, raised a grand total of $370,719 to fund her campaign.

Her nearest competitor, Marjan Philhour, received 35 percent of the vote and raised $344,572.

The fact that the winner raised more money is no surprise, but what perhaps defies conventional political wisdom is the difference in how the two candidates raised their money, which in turn re- flects, to some extent, which spe- cial interest groups supported their campaigns with outside funding.

Both candidates were elected to be members of the SF Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), and as such were able to funnel considerably more money into their campaigns for supervisor than the third- place competitor, David Lee, who got a little less that 11 per- cent of the vote, and the other challengers. Lee raised a little less than $234,000 for his campaign.

Individual contributions to supervisor campaigns are limited to $500 per donor, but there are no limits on individual contributions to candidates for the DCCC.


Candidates can use money raised for their DCCC campaigns to help fund their supervisor campaigns. It is unknown if any of the candidates running for District 1 supervisor transferred money from their DCCC accounts to their supervisorial accounts.

But, there is a difference in who, or what, contributed to the campaigns of Fewer and Philhour.

The records show that Philhour raised $116,977 of her total fundraising tally, in monetary contributions for her DCCC campaign, while Fewer only raised $7,506 for hers. Philhour also raised more than $18,000 in “non-monetary” contributions (wherein a group or organization pays directly for campaign expenses on behalf of the candidate), while Fewer raised $13,530 in “non-monetary” contributions for the DCCC race.

Of those who contributed money and support to Philhour’s supervisorial campaign, a little more than $18,600 came from political action committees (PACs), including “San Franciscans for a City That Works,” “Progress San Francisco,” “San Francisco Democrats United for Progress” and “San Francisco Apartment Association.” Another $18,000 worth of non-monetary support came from PACs for her DCCC campaign.

Private companies, like the real estate developer TMG Partners, which contributed at least $2,500, and individuals like Diane Wilsey, the owner of Wilsey Properties, who con- tributed $10,000; or David Gruber, the owner of Gruber and Gruber Properties, who con- tributed $7,500; and Karen Bloomer, a strategic planner with Leading Resources, who con- tributed another $10,000, also contributed heavily to Philhour’s DCCC campaign.

Other than in the names themselves, it is unclear exactly who some of the PACs represent, and thus the popular term “dark money” is often used to describe their funding.

A clue, however, could lie in an overview and breakdown of the money contributed directly to the supervisor campaigns of the respective candidates, which tend to name individuals, groups and organizations or companies giving donations.

Real Estate developers and agents, construction contractors and property management com- panies funded at least 16 percent of Philhour’s supervisor cam- paign. Law firms or individual attorneys funded at least 8 per- cent; technology-related compa- nies funded at least 6.4 percent; while unions gave at least 2 per- cent.

Fewer’s campaign was funded by half as many real-estate relat- ed companies, at about 8 percent, with law firms and attorneys con-

tributing 5 percent each and tech- nology-related donations and union contributions totaling 3 percent each.

So, how much more “out- side,” or “dark,” money did Fewer manage to garner than Philhour for her campaign?

The answer appears to be con- nected to Fewer’s former posi- tion on the board of the San Francisco Unified School District and her ability to leverage the community connections it brought to the table.

Campaign records show that the overwhelming majority of di- rect monetary contributions to her supervisor campaign came from teachers, students, school

administrators, non-profit organi- zations, political advocacy groups and a lot of retired peo- ple. A notable amount of folks in the records also describe them- selves as “self-employed” or “unemployed,” while many are professionals or work for various City agencies.

So, it appears, at least from the paper record, that grass-roots organizing and community con- nections raised enough support for Fewer, so she was able to overcome the outside money from wealthy donors and compa- nies supporting other candidates to become the next supervisor to represent District 1.

Categories: Richmond Review

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