A $40,000 campaign debt is raising questions about whether a group of pro-development activists are as politically effective as they are outspoken about building housing in San Francisco.
Ethics Commission filings show that Yimby Action’s campaign to bring an affordable housing ballot measure before voters in June is in the red with a signature-gathering firm from Portland called Democracy Resources.
Yimby Action is a vocal group of some 1,200 members who are currently lobbying in support of a state Senate bill that would increase height limits throughout much of San Francisco.
The campaign has owed $40,000 to the firm since the end of January, around the time that Yimby Action Executive Director Laura Foote Clark announced that the group would push the ballot initiative back from June to November.
At the time, Clark told her supporters that the sudden death of Mayor Ed Lee changed the political calculus against the success of the measure in June. The measure would speed up the approval process for 100 percent affordable housing projects.
But the campaign debt may suggest another story.
“It’s always harder to get the signatures than you think it will be and it always costs more,” said political consultant Jim Ross. “It kind of shows how the Yimby group — while I think they have a message that gets attention — they have not yet figured out how to become an effective political force in the Bay Area.”
Ross said the debt reflects on the management of the firm by Yimby Action. This is the first measure the group has tried to place on a ballot since it was founded around 2015.
“Any of these firms, whether it’s Democracy Resources or any of the other firms, you need to basically manage on a daily basis,” Ross said.
Democracy Resources political consultant Judson Parker said the campaign “had a lot of fundraising problems” in January. Parker provided the San Francisco Examiner with records showing that the group made a short payment that month and late payments the month prior.
“We cared a lot about actually getting that campaign done, but they just had a lot of setbacks,” Parker said. “They just completely ran out of money, they couldn’t move forward at that time.”
Parker said it’s “very uncommon” for a group to run out of money during a campaign. But he said the firm still hopes to collect signatures for the ballot measure to appear in November.
Clark said the campaign has until Monday to pay Democracy Resources $50,000 to begin collecting signatures again for November. The two parties are currently negotiating another contract for the labor.
“Getting money together for an affordable housing ballot measure is extremely difficult,” said Clark, who is confident that the measure will be on the November ballot. “I wish the conspiracy was true that we were made of money.”
Clark’s campaign may not be the only local campaign to incur a debt with Democracy Resources.
On Monday, the Examiner reported that District 2 supervisor candidate Nick Josefowitz allegedly owed the firm an estimated $20,000 for collecting signatures to put a measure on the June ballot.
Both Yimby Action and Josefowitz share a campaign consultant.
The ballot measure would have prevented a mayor or supervisor from serving more than two four-year terms, effectively blocking a rumored candidate from running against him next November.
Josefowitz spent nearly $400,000 on the initiative, which failed to gather enough signatures to qualify in June.
As of Tuesday, Democracy Resources records show the final balance owed to the firm is $17,745. The firm and campaign are currently in negotiations to settle the alleged debt.
“The committee had budgeted an amount per the contract with signature firm Democracy Resources and already had to exceed that threshold just on the signatures collected to date,” Jesse Mainardi, an attorney for Josefowitz’s campaign, previously said in a statement. “The committee does not have unlimited funding, and it does not owe any money.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story contained a photo caption that incorrectly identified a person in the photo as Sam Moss. The caption also errantly claimed that Yimby supporters were speaking out against Senate Bill 827 when they were, in fact, speaking out against a resolution that opposes the bill.