Less than three months after Mayor Ed Lee appointed Julie Christensen to the Board of Supervisors, the North Beach neighborhood activist and businesswoman is already bringing in large amounts of campaign cash — mostly from the tech sector elite.
Christensen is attempting to win her first election to retain the District 3 seat. She is in a high stakes battle against former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who is vying to reclaim the seat he held between 2001 and 2009 in what would be a significant blow to the mayor and his allies.
Candidates are not required to disclose their contributors until the end of July, but lobbyists must report monthly political contributions they made or helped raise through fundraisers or other means. Christensen received $25,300 in lobbyist contributions between Feb. 2 and March 25, according to the Ethics Commission. The contributions, which are limited to $500 per donor, indicate early on in the race the deep-pocketed political machine backing Christensen in the Nov. 3 election.
Contributors include Bob Linscheid, who’s the head of the Chamber of Commerce and a registered lobbyist, and Google's registered lobbyist Rebecca Prozan. The bulk of the contributions, 42 of 115 totaling $21,000, were reported by well-known lobbyist Alex Tourk. These contributions, dated March 25, come from an array of high-profile tech leaders and tech investors: the mayor's prominent backer and tech investor, Ron Conway, along with four of Conway’s family members; Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO; Sean Parker, Napster co-founder and founding president of Facebook; Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter; Don Mattrick, former Zynga CEO; and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Fenton.
Supporters of lobbying transparency worry that lobbying activity undermines the integrity of policy debates. Ideally, the best argument would prevail in public policy debates. But the concern is that those with the most money win out at the expense of the greater interest of the public.
John St. Croix, director of the Ethics Commission, said Thursday that due to ambiguity in campaign laws it was likely that in previous years lobbyists were not reporting their involvement in political fundraisers, not like they have started to since his commission clarified the regulations in July.
In a July memo about The City’s lobbying law, St. Croix said the disclosure of contributions raised by lobbyists at fundraisers “is among the most important in the ordinance given the unique risk of corruption and the appearance of corruption inherent in the interplay between lobbying and campaign fundraising activity.”
At $25,300 in lobbyist contributions, Christensen already far surpassed the amounts raised by the five incumbent supervisors who won re-election last November. Mark Farrell received the most lobbyist money at $15,600, followed by Katy Tang at $4,800, Scott Wiener at $3,250, Malia Cohen at $1,800 and Jane Kim at $950.
Christensen has aligned herself with the mayor and his allies, while Peskin’s camp has taken aim at The City’s affordability crisis, the blame for which has often fallen on the flourishing tech industry.
No lobbyists have reported contributions for Peskin, who had raised $10,737 as of March 31.
Peskin said accepting contributions from these interests one week and then voting on legislation related to the same interests the next week — he cited the controversial short-term rental legislation — “is the opposite of independence and the opposite of what we need at City Hall.”
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Peskin said. “This is exactly why I’m running. We need affordable housing, not affordable supervisors.”
Peskin said he raised more $10,000 on March 30, the day he announced his candidacy, and continues to raise more — noting that even his postman and garbage collector pitched in, along with Allan Jacobs, former director of the Planning Commission.
In response to Peskin’s comments, Christensen’s campaign sent a statement to the San Francisco Examiner. “Affordable housing is critical not just to District 3 but the entire city, which is why Julie is working to protect tenants from evictions and create more affordable housing,” the statement said. “Peskin’s obstructionist policies when he was on the Board of Supervisors are part of why we are facing an affordable housing crisis today.”
The District 3 seat was vacated late last year by David Chiu, who in November was elected to the California Assembly to represent San Francisco.