New Ed Lee donation scandal revives calls for oversight

Mayor Ed Lee's spokesman said the mayor is the victim of corrupt donors. (Examiner file photo)Mayor Ed Lee's spokesman said the mayor is the victim of corrupt donors. (Examiner file photo)

Mayor Ed Lee's spokesman said the mayor is the victim of corrupt donors. (Examiner file photo)Mayor Ed Lee's spokesman said the mayor is the victim of corrupt donors. (Examiner file photo)

With early absentee voting under way and just five days until San Franciscans swarm to the voting booths, stories of laundered campaign contributions and ballot stuffing continue to dog Mayor Ed Lee.

On Wednesday, after new allegations surfaced that a Lee supporter laundered campaign donations, Lee’s opponents once again rushed for the spotlight to demand an investigation and federal oversight of Tuesday’s elections.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, a mayoral candidate, said donations reportedly gathered by a property services manager should be investigated by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

Herrera said he’s concerned about reports that Andrew Hawkins-Cohen skirted campaign contribution limits by pushing donors into giving money to Lee’s campaign, and then reimbursing them.

Those allegations are now the subject of an “evaluation” by the District Attorney’s Office, according to a spokeswoman. The district attorney is also investigating an earlier batch of suspicious donations from an airport shuttle company to Lee’s campaign, along with alleged voter-ballot fraud by the SF Neighbor Alliance — an independent expenditure committee supporting Lee, but unaffiliated with the mayor’s official campaign.

“Ed Lee supporters think that they are above the law,” Herrera said. “There’s an environment that’s being created where this type of behavior isn’t being discouraged. Ed Lee hasn’t taken leadership to demand that it stop.”

But Tony Winnicker, Lee’s campaign spokesman, characterized the mayor as the victim of corrupt donors wanting to curry favor with the likely winner.

“These donors looked our staff straight in the eye and lied,” Winnicker said, adding that all contributors sign a form asserting that the donations are their own money. “He’s the incumbent mayor with a commanding lead in every poll, and unfortunately that appears to attract some very stupid people who perversely believe they can gain influence by breaking the law.”

Winnicker said in light of the most recent incident, the campaign has returned eight donations totaling $4,579 — a figure he characterized as minuscule when considering Lee has garnered more than 4,000 individual contributions adding up to $1.25 million as of the latest campaign finance disclosure period.

State Sen. Leland Yee, another mayoral candidate, renewed a request for state and federal elections monitors to watch over Tuesday’s voting, and candidate Joanna Rees wants the DA’s investigations into the incidents to be expedited before election season ends.

“Voters have a right to know now what improprieties are happening in this election,” said Todd Stenhouse, a spokesman for Rees.

Political consultant Jim Ross, who is not affiliated with any of the campaigns, said the dustups are not likely to sink Lee’s commanding lead in polls. Ross noted that it’s the donors and an outside support group that appear to be under investigation — not necessarily the Lee campaign itself.

“The scandal needs to be tied to him more personally, and these ricochet shots are not going to do it,” Ross said. “Ed Lee is going to have to lose the race. I don’t think any of his opponents can win it.”

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsDennis HerreraEd LeeLocal

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