A neon sign for Juul e-cigarette products at Cigarettes For Less smoke shop on Market Street on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

‘Blood money’: Lobbyists, consultants working for Juul may be frozen out of future SF work

On Guard column header Joe

San Francisco politics are filled with proverbial smoke-filled rooms of campaign consultants and lobbyists who do elected officials’ dirty work.

But, apparently, there is honor even among politicians and corporate assassins. Who knew?

Campaign consultants and lobbyists who worked for either the Yes on Proposition C campaign to repeal San Francisco’s vape ban, or who worked directly for Juul, are now seeing themselves frozen out of work.

That’s according to sources who cannot be identified, but who have firsthand knowledge of these future campaigns, the cash cows that consultants depend on to pay the bills. Lobbyists too — like Chris Gruwell of New Deal Advisors — may soon see Board of Supervisors members slam doors in their faces for having supported Juul, I’m told.

That may spell trouble for Gruwell’s clients besides Juul Labs, like Pier 39, the Teamsters Joint Council 7, Tidewater Capital, University of San Francisco, or Webcor, if they want to maintain positive ties with The City.

No matter which door you open in City Hall these days, someone behind it is absolutely pissed at San Francisco’s e-cig supporters. That includes City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who co-sponsored the vape ban with Supervisor Shamann Walton.

That ban was aimed at curbing an epidemic of vaping use among teens and kids, which Prop. C would have repealed.

“I don’t know how they look themselves in the mirror at night,” Herrera told me Wednesday. “They took blood money, as far as I’m concerned, based on compromising the health of kids.”

It should be noted, plenty of The City’s most well-known consultants and lobbyists said “no” to Juul, I confirmed.

“They should be ashamed of themselves,” Herrera added.

Ashamed or not, these city insiders are already losing work.

Mayor London Breed’s $628 million Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response bond is slated for the March 2020 ballot. Any other year, you could bet the Golden Gate Bridge that the consultants leading the campaign would be Whitehurst Mosher Campaign Strategy and Media.

Previously, Whitehurst Mosher ran the City College of San Francisco Parcel Tax, and Yes on Measure A to rebuild San Francisco General Hospital.

But as for the earthquake bond? They’re smoked, I’m told, after they took $6 million to run the Yes on C vaping campaign (this is not pure profit, but the amount it takes to flood the airwaves with pro-Juul messaging. Usually, consultants take a flat fee or some rate near 15 percent home from the money billowing through their offices.)

The Mayor’s Office has shut the door, shoved a towel underneath it, and is doing everything it can to keep the vape-stink of Whitehurst Mosher off their future measures. That’s potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their pockets.

Mark Mosher did not return a request for comment.

But the backlash against his firm is not a surprise to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who told me even he spurned Gruwell over his involvement with Juul. The two have been tight for a long time, and Gruwell even helped “spread the word” for Peskin’s first campaign fundraiser in March.

“I think they have every reason to be worried that the political establishment is going to shun them,” Peskin told me of Gruwell and others who promoted Juul’s interests. “It was a monied assault on every value that San Francisco holds dear.”

One of Gruwell’s clients, the Teamsters Joint Council 7, said if things were to go south — though they hadn’t heard of the brouhaha over Juul — they’d be fine.

“You’re the first person who told me about that,” said Doug Bloch, political director of Teamsters Joint Council 7. If Gruwell did lose his “in,” Bloch said “we’re fine because we have leaders and staff people who have only one job, to represent members to the best of our ability.”

Despite Peskin and Herrera’s strong sentiments, it’s not immediately clear if other campaign consultants will be similarly blacklisted — though the idea that they should is building steam, potentially at the local Democratic Party itself, I’m told.

When Democrats are the only party in town, losing Democrats as clients is bad for business.

Nate Allbee is a progressive-aligned campaign consultant who has worked for Supervisors Aaron Peskin (before parting ways mid-campaign), Rafael Mandelman, Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, and more. Haney and Ronen even have him running their Mental Health SF ballot measure slated for the 2020 ballot, which aims to overhaul San Francisco’s behavioral health system.

Ronen, who is a long-time ally of Allbee’s, said “give me a break,”to any notion of blacklisting him. “If we start blacklisting campaign consultants and staff for working on campaigns we don’t agree with then there will be no one left to work on campaigns.”

Apparently a fair few San Francisco leaders disagree with Ronen.

Allbee also shot back, saying Peskin can’t “greedily take money from Juul’s lobbyist with one hand and then demand that your political enemies be blacklisted for working with Juul with the other.”

But Peskin is far from the only one turning up the heat on Allbee and others.

Dr. John Maa, a San Francisco surgeon and long-time backer of public health measures in San Francisco, like the sugary beverage tax and vape ban, said medical health professionals should be worried about Allbee’s involvement.

“The ballot measure, Prop. C , was a manipulative and deceptive effort to evade federal law,” Maa told me. “I would have concerns and questions for anyone who supported that campaign knowingly. I would question their judgment.”

As a Chinese-American, Dr. Maa was also disappointed to see the Chinese Democratic Club take $20,000 from Juul to promote their worldview.

“This is the first time they have taken such a strong position against public health,” he said. “I believe this is a first foul.”

Also, two candidates potentially running into their first foul are City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees candidate Ivy Lee, and Board of Education candidate Jenny Lam, both of whose campaigns retain the services of consultant David Ho.

Ho, a former protege of Rose Pak, is a frequently hired ombudsman to Chinatown. He ran the independent expenditure campaign supporting Mayor London Breed’s election against Mark Leno and Jane Kim, and boosted many-a-supervisor’s standing among the Chinese community.

He also saw his organization, Long Ying International, run $2.4 million worth of outreach for Juul, no doubt to the Chinese community. He took a cut of that, too.

So should parents be worried about Lee and Lam’s support from Ho? It’s one thing to say Juul isn’t right for youth, it’s another thing to share a consultant with the e-cigarette company.

Lee told me she endorsed No on C, but countered, “that’s like asking if people will think I love tracksuits because (David Ho is) always wearing one. I think people are smarter than that.”

She then tacitly accused me of racism. “So are you asking their clients the same question?” She said of Whitehurst Mosher, Gruwell, and Allbee. “All the non-Asian consultants are just ‘doing business’ as consultants while somehow Dave is nefarious in taking his client?”

Well no, Ivy. Actually, most of these folks are in hot water.

Lam said that as the mother of two teens, one who has asthma, “I remain deeply concerned about the alarming rates of young people vaping and addiction to nicotine,” but would not directly answer questions about Ho.

One thing you gotta say about Ho, though — when he gets swung at, he swings back.

“If they don’t want to support the Chinese community, they don’t have to hire me,” Ho said. “If they wanna blacklist Dave Ho, that’s their choice, but I’m not sure they’re doing something in their best interest.”

“I don’t believe there’s one consultant in town that hasn’t violated some labor, ethics, or something, right?” he added.

What Ho says makes sense, but only to a point.

If there’s one matter that elevates San Francisco’s “usual suspects” above their usual glad-handing and back-patting, it’s kids’ health.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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