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LGBT PAC’s endorsement of Leno threatens campaign promise

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Mayoral candidate Mark Leno has received the endorsement of Equality California, the state’s largest LGBT-supporting political action committee. (Yessica Prado/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)

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Mayoral candidate Mark Leno has earned the endorsement of the largest LGBT-supporting political action committee in California: Equality California.

The endorsement, announced Thursday, threatens Leno’s pledge to denounce and reject PACs, Super PACs and other forms of third-party political spending. (Hat-tip to Bay Area Reporter for first reporting the endorsement. Their coverage of LGBT issues is still the quickest, and most thorough, around.)

“They are, by definition, corrupt,” Leno told the crowd at a Potrero Hill candidate forum in February in reference to PACs and other third-party spending.

Leno has repeatedly challenged Board of Supervisors President London Breed to join his pledge to denounce PACs; mayoral candidate Supervisor Jane Kim and candidate Angela Alioto have signed that pledge. Though Breed has not joined the pledge, she has denounced PACs openly on her campaign website.

SEE RELATED: Mayoral candidates Breed, Kim, Alioto to close ‘slush fund’ campaign accounts

Super PACs and their local cousins, independent expenditure committees, are essentially political bank accounts that can raise unlimited funds from donors and often take big ol’ checks in big ol’ chunks from special interests. By contrast, candidate campaign committees are limited to accepting $500 at a time from donors.

Super PACs and IEs are legally barred from coordinating with candidates, but that has always been a silly barrier — it doesn’t take a rocket scientist for an ally running a Super PAC to know how to run an attack ad, and against whom.

The only IE in the San Francisco mayor’s race right now supports Breed; it’s called “It’s Our Time — Women for London Breed.” Now, it may be “time” for Leno’s supporters to join the big-spending fun.

Denouncing PACs has been Leno’s clarion call, a cheer-attracting catchphrase highlighting public hatred of the metric ton of tech dollars flowing into City Hall politicos’ pockets for years, smoothing the way for lax regulations around Airbnb and other tech-sector darlings.

How Equality California reacts to Leno’s public outcry may settle once and for all whether his campaign pledge will truly curb third-party spending.

Jim Stearns, a campaign consultant working on Leno’s campaign, said Leno denounces third-party spending from Equality California despite its mission to support LGBTQ candidates.

“Mark has great respect for Equality California, but asks that Equality California encourage its members to participate in his campaign, respect the $500 contribution limit, and not engage in independent expenditures on his behalf,” Stearns wrote me in an email.

Equality California has not yet spent a single dime toward attacking Leno’s major opponents, including Breed, Kim and former supervisor Angela Alioto. But that doesn’t mean it won’t.

SEE RELATED: Breed joins Leno’s call to remove ‘acting mayor’ from her title on ballot

“Equality California is currently exploring all our options to support his candidacy and reach out to our members about it,” said spokesperson Samuel Garrett-Pate.

That doesn’t sound like a “no” to me. And what are these “options” Garrett-Pate mentions?

On the low end, they could simply email their 800,000 statewide members to talk up the candidate they care for best. Another scenario is Equality California spending enough cash to fill Kezar Stadium, and then some, to tank Leno’s opponents. That was the PAC’s strategy in 2016 to support Leno’s pal, state Sen. Scott Wiener.

Bask in it, folks: Equality California spent a whopping $1.1 million in TV, online and mail advertising opposing Kim’s state senate race against Wiener, according to state campaign finance records.

Its donors included a corporations that progressives — and ostensibly Leno’s supporters — would turn their noses at: A charter schools PAC donated $75,000; the landlord-loving California Apartment Association donated $13,000; and rent control-opposing Realtor-supported PACs donated at least $170,000.

During the Kim-Wiener face-off in 2016, Equality California also took funding from the LGBT Caucus Leadership Fund, which received $10,000 from Pepsico Inc. and $15,000 from PG&E, among other cringeworthy sources.

Kim lost to Wiener by a slim margin, and you can bet that PAC money helped him. So will Equality California poke holes in Leno’s promise?

“Mark Leno categorically rejects any Super PAC expenditures on his behalf,” Stearns said.

We’ll see if “categorically” rejecting anything is enough to stem the tide of phony money.

* * *
The latest celebrity endorsement for mayoral candidate London Breed is dedicated and medicated. Rap artist Snoop Dogg (that’s D-O-double-G, to you) Tweeted his support for Breed on Thursday morning.

Snoop Dogg and Ron Conway at the #NoGunsAllowed Project benefit in San Francisco in 2014. (Courtesy Willie T Photography)

“im standing wit the women of @ItsOurTimeSF because its time an accomplished woman led the city,” the rap artist wrote on Twitter, invoking the name of the Super PAC (It’s Our Time) supporting Breed for mayor.

I recently wrote about former Arizona state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords’ support of Breed — and her financial ties to Airbnb investor and tech mogul Ron Conway, who (good for him) supported Giffords’ anti-gun efforts with tens of thousands of dollars.

Breed’s supporters, including her former legislative aide Conor Johnston, claim those who continually bring up Conway’s money and influence are “obsessed.”

But gosh darn if Conway just doesn’t keep popping up all on his own.

As with Giffords, Conway is a plausible link between the famously red-eyed rapper and Breed. Conway and Snoop hosted anti-gun events in 2014 and 2015, one of which Giffords attended. Also in attendance were 49ers hall-of-famer Ronnie Lott and artist MC Hammer; both were stars of the “2 Legit 2 Quit” music videos in support of the late Mayor Ed Lee, which was — surprise! — also a Conway project.

Breed’s supporters allege that progressives who warn of his influence imply that Breed is “owned” or a “puppet,” but I don’t think that’s the case. Breed is a strong, intelligent candidate who I’ve known to carve her own path. That said, it’s incumbent on the public to know who is granting favors to politicians — and to wonder what they may ask in return one day.

We may not ever know truly who introduced Snoop to Breed. But from now on, every time I hear the “What’s My Name” bass line, I know what I’ll sing:

“Bow-wow-wow yippy-yo Conway.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

Editor’s note: This column’s headline has been updated for accuracy.

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