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City Hall whacks business — again

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With each passing month, protests by government officials that City Hall is not hostile to businesses ring a little more hollow, as evidence to the contrary continues to pile up.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors, with nary a peep of protest or dissent from any of its members, gave preliminary approval to a new ban on campaign contributions from businesses to candidates for elected office in San Francisco.

The amendment to The City’s Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code, sponsored by Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Ross Mirkarimi and Tom Ammiano, has been hailed by its champions as an attempt to “get the corporate influence out of politics,” and ostensibly modeled on a similar federal law.

What is present in the federal statute, however — and conspicuously missing from the San Francisco version — is a corresponding ban on contributions from labor unions. Such a glaring omission in City

Hall’s so-called “clean-government” law makes it appear our lawmakers have no intention of creating a level playing field when it comes to organizations backing candidates they feel will promote their interests.

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In 2004, labor unions made more than 130 contributions to candidates for elective office in San Francisco, totaling more than $50,000. Under the law that appears poised to sail through the Board of Supervisors, this pipeline of contributions — and the influence it presumably brings — will continue to flow unimpeded, while businesses will be banned from contributing a penny.

The lack of a level playing field raises questions about whether City Hall is truly looking out for the public’s interests. The board is scheduled to vote in the next few weeks on dozens of agreements with labor unions that would result in pay raises for city workers.

That kind of seeming tit for tat — pay hikes in return for campaign contributions — is exactly the reason the public has become deeply cynical about the political process. If the supervisors believe in “getting the money out of politics,” it shouldn’t matter whose money it is.

Meanwhile, a Board of Supervisors committee voted Wednesday to impose an additional annual fee on businesses that would amount to more than $1 million a year, which would go toward enforcement of The City’s minimum wage rules.

The board was warned by the city controller in 2003 that the new minimum wage law would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to enforce, but the board made no plans to cover those costs. Now it is attempting to milk businesses for the cash to make up for its own lack of planning.

All in all, it has been a fairly typical week at City Hall — exclude businesses from the rights afforded other organizations, but force them to pony up when a cash infusion is needed. The only surprise is that our local officials are so brazen in their disdain for the economic engine of this city.

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