The ramifications of a state fine for illegal campaigning related to Supervisor Mark Farrell's 2010 run for office remain uncertain, with a pending outstanding penalty of $191,000 and possible legal action by the City Attorney's Office.
The resolution of the matter was made no less clear when the Ethics Commission discussed it this week along with the possibility of the city attorney taking legal action related to the case. The five-member commission met in closed session and did not disclose what was discussed to the public afterwards, not an unusual occurrence.
In November, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission levied a $14,500 fine against Chris Lee — founder and president of Town Square Consulting, Farrell's 2010 campaign consultant — for coordinating with the independent political committee Common Sense Voters. Campaign laws prohibit the coordination between the two committees. Candidate committees have $500 contribution limits and different reporting requirements.
The FPPC's decision appears to be the first time such a penalty was levied in San Francisco related to coordination between a candidate's campaign committee and an independent expenditure committee.
Lee was found to have violated the Political Reform Act in five instances. The political practices commission's decision said that evidence showed Lee helped set up, fundraise and initially plan campaigning for Common Sense Voters. The political committee received $141,000 from Republican Thomas Coates, a real estate investor, and $50,000 from socialite and philanthropist Dede Wilsey.
According to the FPPC's decision, the “evidence supports the finding that Mark Farrell did not authorize” Lee to coordinate with Common Sense Voters. Farrell, a more moderate candidate who was relatively unknown at the time, beat out well-known candidate Janet Reilly, who was seen as more progressive, in the supervisor race for District 2, which comprises the Marina and Pacific Heights.
Farrell was re-elected in November without facing serious opposition.
Following the penalty against Lee, the head of the Ethics Commission, John St. Croix, sent a Dec. 8 letter to Farrell saying that based on the FPPC decision, he had to forfeit $191,000, the amount Common Sense Voters spent in support of Farrell or in opposition to other District 2 candidates. The fine would be paid into The City's budget. The letter notes that the Ethics Commission may provide a waiver or reduce the amount. As of Thursday, Farrell had not forfeited the funds.
Farrell declined to comment for the story. Lee did not respond to requests for comment.