Committee raised funds to push Leland Yee's campaign for SF mayor

Organizers of an effort to draft Leland Yee to run for mayor in 1999 said they never raised any money like the controversial Run, Ed, Run campaign did for Mayor Ed Lee, but that’s not exactly true.

According to San Francisco Ethics Commission filings, the Draft Leland Yee Mayor committee raised about $3,000 for polling and opinion card mailers to gauge whether Yee had a shot against incumbent Mayor Willie Brown. He did not, according to poll numbers reported at the time in Chinese-language newspaper stories, and he did not enter the race.

Larry Yee, one of the committee’s leaders and now the head of the Yee Family Association, maintained he doesn’t recall any money being spent. He said Run, Ed, Run is entirely different on account of the $70,000 it spent on signs, buttons and a campaign office, plus the fact that Lee indeed filed for election.

“There was no campaign office, we just met for coffee. That was it,” Larry Yee said. “From my memory, we didn’t spend any money.”

Leland Yee, then a San Francisco supervisor and now a state senator, has publicly criticized Run, Ed, Run, saying it was “just simply out there, flaunting the law.”

But the Chinatown press from 1999 suggests the senator was fine with the draft campaign when it was on his behalf, and he even walked a line similar to Lee when he was undeclared.

“Yee has been tight-lipped when asked by the media whether he decided to run or not,” says a World Journal article from July 21, 1999. “His routine answer has been ‘I’ve been thinking about it and have not decided.’”

Meanwhile, polling was being conducted by a South Bay-based company, according to the Sing Tao Daily, and the World Journal reported that 90,000 opinion cards had gone out seeking input on Leland Yee’s viability.

Leland Yee’s campaign manager, Jim Stearns, said it’s important to note that the Yee committee officially declared its purpose as supporting a candidate, whereas the Run, Ed, Run committee continually refuted the existence of any candidate. Stearns said the way Run, Ed, Run portrayed itself kept it free from laws against coordination between independent expenditure committees and candidate campaigns.

Critics said the technicality added up to exploitation of a loophole and Ethics Commission Executive Director John St. Croix declared that anyone working on the Run, Ed, Run effort should be barred from participating in Lee’s official campaign.

Although that ruling was overturned by the five-person appointed commission earlier this month, St. Croix said the law needs to be re-examined after the election because it doesn’t address what to do when an independent expenditure committee actually precedes the official candidate campaign. Had Leland Yee decided to run in 1999, members of Draft Leland Yee Mayor would have been clearly barred from working on the official campaign because of the group’s original candidate affiliation, St. Croix said.

“There’s a very fine distinction between the two types of committees,” St. Croix said. “The only difference is an expression of what your purpose is.”

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