Was Mayor Ed Lee a candidate before announcing his candidacy?
Apparently not, according to the San Francisco Ethics Commission, which debated for more than an hour Monday the role of the controversial “Run, Ed, Run” campaign.
“Run, Ed, Run” has come under scrutiny since it launched earlier this summer, raising money and campaigning publicly in hopes of convincing interim Mayor Ed Lee to declare his candidacy in the November mayoral race.
It was a unique strategy that exposed a loophole in San Francisco’s campaign-finance regulations because the committee collected cash on behalf of a non-candidate. Therefore, the committee was not subject to the campaign-finance laws that declared candidates were required to follow.
By unanimously voting that Lee was not a candidate when “Run, Ed, Run” was campaigning, Ethics Commissioners suggested that “Run, Ed, Run” was not a third-party campaign in support of a candidate because there simply was no candidate. It implies that there is little conflict between the “Run, Ed, Run” campaign and the now-active campaign to elect Ed Lee as mayor.
The decision has far-reaching implications for organizers of “Run, Ed, Run” and with its volunteers. One implication is that those organizers and volunteers will now be able to also work on the Lee for Mayor campaign. Another is that candidate groups have the ability to raise hundreds of thousands on uncapped and unregulated dollars before a candidate even enters a race.
The vote appears to rescind a previous warning from ethics executive director John St. Croix. Last week, St. Croix said that the committee behind “Run, Ed, Run” was subject to campaign laws that require independent committees that support candidates to operate separately from the candidates themselves.
Though the commissioners decided to let Lee’s backers off the hook, some said that the loophole would eventually have to be closed.
“We don’t want a situation where no one is a candidate until hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on their behalf already,” said commission chair Benedict Hur.