An independent political group pushing to get interim Mayor Ed Lee to run for mayor in November is operating in a gray area of campaigning and may be setting a precedent for future races, experts say.
Already, the committee Progress For All has printed hundreds of signs, paid for banner ads on news websites (including The San Francisco Examiner’s), and set up a campaign headquarters — all for a candidate who says repeatedly he is not running for office.
That raises several issues about how the campaign operates and complies with local and state laws regarding campaign ethics. As a committee independent of a candidate — because the candidate in question isn’t running — Progress for All doesn’t have to contend with individual contribution limits. Donations to mayoral candidates by individuals are limited to $500.
The campaign has also registered as a political action committee rather than an independent expenditure committee. A political action committee raises money and spends it on a variety of causes, while an independent expenditure is focused on one candidate.
How the committee defines itself is important, according to John St. Croix, executive director of the Ethics Commission.
An independent expenditure campaign could have an effect on the other nine candidates’ public financing if Lee enters the race, essentially raising the ceiling of matching funds they receive from The City, St. Croix said.
Thus far, St. Croix said, Progress For All acts more like an independent expenditure committee than a PAC.
“It appears to the casual observer that 100 percent of their goal is to draft Ed Lee,” St. Croix said.
On Tuesday, the committee filed paperwork required if a committee raises or spends more than $1,000. The latest filing also names Gordon Chin, head of the Chinatown Community Development Center as its principal officer. Chin is a longtime friend of Lee with a community leadership fund named after him.
Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said he hasn’t heard of a situation quite like this.
“It’s fascinating,” Stern said. “First of all, you rarely have interim mayors, and then you rarely have candidates who don’t want to run.”
The people behind Run Ed Run dispute that a campaign for a reluctant candidate is unprecedented. Enrique Pearce, who is managing the Progress For All campaign, points to the write-in mayoral campaign of of Tom Ammiano in 1999 as an example.
“It’s not exactly uncharted territory,” Pearce said, adding that donations would be public next month when political committees are required to discose their finances. “We’re doing what we can to be 100 percent transparent.”