Campaign cash law tweaked 

Public funding caps would rise if board passes proposal

click to enlarge Phil Ting - S.F. EXAMINER STOCK PHOTO
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  • Phil Ting

After months of sometimes-heated debate, San Francisco's public-financing program for mayoral and supervisorial candidates is finally about to change.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Arizona legislation, finding that tying disbursement of public-finance dollars to third-party spending violates the First Amendment. That ruling encouraged San Francisco to modify its similar program.

Currently, to qualify for public financing, candidates must raise a certain amount, and then they receive matching funds based on the amount of private contributions raised. By participating, they agree to adhere to a spending cap.

Supervisor Jane Kim took the lead in drafting a compromise revision, and on Thursday, the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee sent her proposal to the full board for a vote Tuesday. It would take effect in 2013.

Kim’s legislation eliminates a trigger in which publicly financed candidates can receive more matching funds and exceed the cap if third-party spending also does. Her changes also would make it harder to receive public funding and increase the amount of public financing candidates can receive.

Board candidates currently must collect $5,000 from at least 75 residents to qualify for the program, but under the change they would have to collect $10,000 from at least 100. Mayoral candidates would have to collect $50,000 from at least 500 residents, up from $25,000 and 250.

Board candidates now can only receive $89,000 in public funds and not spend more than $143,000, but that would increase to $155,000 and $250,000. Incumbents could receive up to $152,500 in public dollars. If third-party spending exceeded the proposed cap, publicly financed candidates could spend more, but not receive more public funds.

The mayoral spending cap would remain at $1.475 million, with candidates able to receive $975,000 for raising $500,000.

“I’m not 100 percent happy with everything that’s in this,” public-financing advocate Stephen Hill said recently, “but I think on balance it’s a good effort that we all made here.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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