Vallie Brown tops progressive challenger in District 5 supervisor campaign fundraising

New filings show Dean Preston drawing more donations from outside district

On Guard column header Joe

Supervisor candidate Dean Preston has been edged out in fundraising by incumbent Supervisor Vallie Brown to represent District 5, in the latest campaign finance disclosures this week.

Brown is ostensibly leading in the Scrooge McDuckian-practice of swimming in cash, which may spell some trouble for Preston, according to political insiders I spoke with, depending on how robust his ground game in the district is.

While the two are close in totals, Brown has Preston beat out in one more arena: Local campaign contributions.

A higher percentage of Brown’s donations come from San Franciscans, and people from District 5, than Preston’s.

On the road to November, Brown has raised $361,000, edging out Preston, the self-defined Democratic Socialist, who raised $358,000. Those numbers are combined with individual contributions of up to $500 apiece, and public financing, which accounts for about half of each candidate’s fundraising from January 1 to the end of June this year.

Each has also spent a similar amount in their districts: Brown spent roughly $174,000 while Preston spent about $153,000 to win over San Franciscans in District 5, so far, according to filings with the San Francisco Ethics Commission, which came out Wednesday night.

Also, a quick aside to anyone bummed out by only talking about money in supervisor campaigns: We’ve got issues! And by that, I mean we’ve covered “the issues.” For more of my coverage on the candidates’ stances, check out coverage of two candidate forums here, and here.

OK, back to the money.

Does the money matter?

Maureen Erwin, who has done campaign consultant work in San Francisco for years, told me Wednesday evening that though the candidates dollar amounts were nearly equal, this may actually disadvantage Preston more than Brown.

“In terms of the money, I wouldn’t look at these numbers and say, this is a defining factor at the moment. They’ve both raised a good amount of money, they’ve both got some in the bank too,” Erwin said.

Preston is no newcomer to District 5, and came within spitting distance of beating London Breed for the supervisor seat in 2016. That previous campaigning will raise his name ID among voters, Erwin said. But, Brown has worked for two former District 5 supervisors on opposite sides of the Democratic spectrum: Ross Mirkarimi, a Green and progressive ally, and Mayor London Breed, a moderate.

“As someone who’s been there for a very long time and knows a lot of people, I would give her the advantage as the incumbent,” Erwin said.

Jim Ross, a long-time Bay Area political strategist, said the onus was on Preston to out-raise Brown.

“One thing we’ve seen is that in most races when there’s an incumbent that’s been there for a while, usually the challenger has to spend more money than the incumbent to win,” Ross told me Wednesday evening.

Ross also noted that it very much counts where the money comes from.

In the District 4 race between Supervisor Gordon Mar and his opponent Jessica Ho, for instance, most of Ho’s money came from Southern California, a sure sign she didn’t have neighborhood support.

“Where the money is coming from really matters,” Ross said.

By that measure, Brown easily beat-out Preston.

About 74 percent of Brown’s campaign contributions came from within San Francisco, and most came from District 5, where she’s running. About 99 percent of her contributions came from inside California.

Preston, on the other hand, saw only 58 percent of his campaign contributions come from San Francisco. And while he had significant contributions come from the neighborhoods he’s campaigning in, a roughly equal number of campaign contributions came from The Mission District and other nearby neighborhoods.

The Mission is a noted progressive democratic stronghold, helpful during ballot measure campaigns and citywide elections, like the District Attorney’s race.

But that’s less helpful for Preston. Campaign donors from the Mission can’t vote for him.

Brown told me she thinks people in District 5 gave to her campaign because “It’s much more a grassroots (campaign). People who live in the area, and who know the issues” donated.

Preston did not return my request for comment.

Notable donors

Let’s first talk totals. Preston netted about 430 campaign contributions from January this year through the end of June. Brown netted about 380 contributions for the same period. A few are multiple contributions from the same individual, but most are unique contributions.

It’s always fun noting who’s supporting who in the campaign finance forms. People may endorse you verbally and publicly, but money is where they really show their allegiance.

Brown sports a lot of contributions from City Hall’s “Usual Suspects” and local moderate Democrats.

The San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 PAC donated the maximum amount to Brown, $500. The firefighters union has long supported moderate candidates, including Breed.

An old campaign bank account for State Senator Scott Wiener forked over $500 as well. The late Mayor Ed Lee’s former senior adviser, Tony Winnicker, gave a maximum amount of $500. Breed ally Debbie Mesloh donated $300. Jessica Ho, the failed District 4 (Sunset and Parkside) candidate who lost to Gordon Mar last year donated $200 to Brown.

Brown also netted a $500 contribution from Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council (a business group) and $500 from John Burton (yes, THAT John Burton, the former heavyweight CA Democratic party leader).

Brown also saw a smattering of union support in her campaign finance filings, from the Operating Engineers Local Union 3, Laborer’s Union Local No. 777 PAC, the Northern California District Council of Laborers, and the Sprinkler Fitters & Apprentices Local 483, among others.

But perhaps in a smack to progressive Preston, the progressive Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee donated $250 to Brown’s campaign, signaling his support.

By the standard of money as allegiance, Preston does have some big fans among progressives, whereas others seem lukewarm to him.

District Attorney candidate Chesa Boudin gave the maximum amount, $500, to Preston’s campaign. Matt Gonzalez, the one-time Green Party mayoral challenger to Gavin Newsom, also gave Preston the maximum amount, $500. Supervisor Matt Haney also maxed out in Preston’s support. Progressive and San Francisco Democratic Party Chair David Campos donated the maximum amount as well.

Supervisor Gordon Mar, on the other hand, donated just $250, half of the limit. Former supervisor Jane Kim, also a one-time mayoral candidate, donated $100 to Preston’s campaign.

Rep. Katherine Porter also donated $250.

I mean, I could call them and get some sort of diplomatic, mealy-mouthed answer, but right there in the black and white it seems like these politicos said “I guess I’ll give you some money, whatever.”

The cash itself speaks volumes.

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

After this column published, new financial fillings became available that placed Dean Preston in closer fundraising to Vallie Brown. Not enough to change the thrust of the column, but enough to neccessitate updating the totals. An adjustment was also made to Campos’ contributions for the same reason.

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