Contract contributions to San Francisco mayoral candidates are illegal on paper

Much has been made of Mayor Ed Lee’s allegedly laundered campaign contributions this election season, but many of his opponents also have taken illegal money — amid considerably less scandal.

City ethics rules forbid candidates from taking money from people involved in organizations awarded city contracts worth more than $50,000 if those contracts are approved by the candidates in their current city jobs or by the office they are seeking.

Click on the photo at right to see a breakdown of how much in contract contributions each candidate has received.

The rule — designed to prevent pay-to-play politics — restricts donors from contributing during the period of contract negotiation until six months after it is approved.

But the rule is difficult to enforce because contract records are not searchable, a situation that often leaves donors, candidates and even the Ethics Commission with no way of knowing what is a legal donation. John St. Croix, the commission’s executive director, said the problem is unlikely to be fixed until at least 2013 because of strained budgets.

According to a cross-referencing of 2011 city contracts with donor lists disclosed by candidates, 11 mayoral hopefuls other than Lee have accepted technically illegal donations from city contractors. Candidates John Avalos and Bevan Dufty top the list in such donations, with $3,569 and $4,820 respectively. Most of the cash resulted from a slew of nonprofit donors involved in city contracts approved by Avalos and Dufty in their roles as city supervisors.

Avalos noted that some of these donations — 25 total for his campaign — amounted to as little as $10.

“When we are questioned about $10 donations made by people who serve as volunteers on nonprofit boards, it does bring a question to my mind about the efficacy of this particular law,” Avalos said. “I believe it is something that the Board of Supervisors needs to revisit.”

Dufty spokesman Roby Chavez said the campaign has returned one of its 24 donations with contractor conflicts, but hasn’t been able to easily determine the status of the others.

“We are working with The City to determine whether any other contributions are against city regulations and will work with the Ethics Commission to manage them accordingly,” Chavez said in an email.

Lee campaign spokesman Tony Winnicker said the mayor returned five donations worth $2,100 after it was discovered that they came from a company with a sewer project contract and another for the controversial Central Subway project.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsDennis HerreraGovernment & PoliticsLocalPoliticsSan Francisco

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