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Muni pulls Breed, Sheehy bus stop ads after ethics complaint filed

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Muni officials said they would ask a contractor to take down bus shelter campaign ads for Supervisor London Breed after an ethics complaint. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A Muni contractor will take down 70 advertisements supporting London Breed for mayor posted at city bus stops, after the transit agency called them a clear violation of city policy against political ads on transit infrastructure.

The decision to remove the ads followed an Ethics Commission complaint filed by a city ethics watchdog.

The advertisements touted Board of Supervisors President London Breed’s mayoral campaign at Muni bus stops in San Francisco. Larry Bush, co-founder of the Friends of Ethics group, said those ads were a “violation of both campaign law and abuse of city resource for political purposes” in an ethics complaint he filed with The City midday Tuesday.

Bush added the advertisements were a “fraud and abuse of office.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency at least partially agreed with Bush’s assessment, as they agreed to remove the ads almost immediately.

“This clearly violates the SFMTA’s advertising policy, so we are asking the vendor to remove them immediately,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose, in an email.

That vendor is Clear Channel, who conducts advertising sales for the SFMTA. Clear Channel said 70 advertisements were up around The City. The San Francisco Examiner spotted two on Geary Boulevard, and Bush claimed two others are located at 18th and Guerrero Streets and 18th and Diamond Streets.

Breed seemingly referenced the Jan. 29 vote to make Mark Farrell mayor of San Francisco in her response to the SFMTA’s move to oust her ads.

“I guess I just can’t get comfortable anywhere without someone trying to throw me out,” Breed said, in a statement.

Breed for Mayor campaign spokesperson Tara Moriarty pinned the campaign snafu on Clear Channel.

“Clear Channel has apologized to our campaign for mistakenly hanging London Breed for Mayor posters at bus shelters. The obligation falls upon Clear Channel to ensure compliance and it failed to do that,” Moriarty wrote in a statement.

Though Moriarty placed the onus on Clear Channel for placing the ads, she confirmed that the Breed campaign intended to buy ads “just for the bus shelters.”

Jason D. King, a spokesperson for Clear Channel, wrote in a statement, “We value our business relationship with the City of San Francisco and the SFMTA. We respect the established advertising standards and to honor this commitment today we removed all ads that were placed on bus shelters in error.”

King did not immediately respond to further inquiry.

In his complaint Bush cited SFMTA advertising policy, which expressly states political advertising is “prohibited.” In SFMTA policy, political ads are defined as “Any material that (i) promotes or opposes a political party, promotes or opposes any state or local ballot measure or the election of any candidate or group of candidates for federal, state, judicial or local government offices,” among other definitions.

Bush called for an investigation and “if warranted, action and penalties for both Breed and the SFMTA.” Ethics Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham was not immediately available to comment on potential penalties for the Breed campaign or SFMTA.

The advertisement at Muni bus stops reads, “London Breed, a mayor for all San Franciscans,” and was paid for by “Breed for Mayor 2018.”

The SFMTA Board of Directors strengthened its ban on political ads last year following controversy around Muni ads supporting Israel that called unnamed enemies “savage” and wrote hatred of Jews is “in the Quran.” The vote amended SFMTA advertising policy to prohibit ads that “concern a political or public issue,” contain profanity or violent descriptions, or are “adverse to the interests of the SFMTA,” according to a staff report.

In a related move, Clear Channel also removed Muni ads featuring Supervisor Jeff Sheehy on Tuesday, which touted the slogan “meet your supervisor” and were paid for by the San Francisco Parents Political Action Committee, led by local politico Todd David.

David said the SF Parents PAC paid roughly $40,000 for the ads to appear at about 20 Muni bus stops throughout San Francisco, but that their contract expired at the end of January. Any remaining advertisements were simply old Muni inventory, he said.

Though the ads did not tout Sheehy’s supervisor campaign to represent the Castro, Noe Valley and other neighborhoods, they did tout his name prominently prior to the June election.

“He was a new supervisor and certainly from me being involved in District 8, it seemed people were confused, they thought Scott (Wiener) was still their supervisor,” David told the Examiner. “People are busy with their lives. We thought it would be valuable for people to know who their supervisor is.”

This story has been updated to reflect new information.

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