New SF ballot measure takes aim at ‘dark money’ in local politics

Sunshine is coming, and no, I don’t mean the weather.

Ethics watchdogs plan to file a campaign finance reform measure called the “Sunlight on Dark Money Initiative” at City Hall Thursday, in the newest effort to loosen the mighty dollar’s grip on San Francisco politics.

Former San Francisco Ethics Commission chair Peter Keane is leading the charge, showing you can’t keep a good ethics watchdog down.

Last February Keane quit the commission when his fellow commissioners failed to pass even a compromised version of his measure, which would strengthen disclosure requirements of campaign money in independent expenditure committees, our local version of Super PACs. Now, flanked by former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, Keane is back to finish what he started.

“It feels good to now directly put it to the people without going through the politicking and compromising,” Keane told me Wednesday. “This is now the strongest version I’ve written of this.”

If passed by voters in November next year, the measure would limit campaign contributions from those who have land use decisions — from office space to housing developments — going before city bodies for approval within 12 months of that decision, and would close loopholes allowing lobbyists to gather political contributions.

But more importantly, it would also require political ads on TV, online, mailers or print to display their top five true donors of more than $5,000 — emphasis on the word “true.”

That is a Big. Honking. Deal.

Readers of this column may recall the latest tactic by corporate actors, as shady donors to political campaigns take a Russian “nesting doll” approach to disguise their influence. For instance, richie-rich tech “angel” investor Ron Conway, who made significant chunks of change off Airbnb and other tech companies, could donate $50,000 to a committee, which then donates money to another committee, which donates money to yet another committee to back a candidate who promises to deregulate companies Conway profits from.

When voters see shady advertisements attacking those candidates’ opponents, however, they wouldn’t see Conway’s name as the backer of that smear campaign, they would see “Committee for Responsibly Bland and Unoffensive Committee Names who Love San Francisco 2018,” or some other ridiculous such moniker.

In the system we have now, only a handful of journalists and politicos have the skill to truly track that money and influence. It’s even happening right now, as more than $100,000 in as-of-yet untraceable money dropped into the District 6 supervisor race aiming to take out candidate Matt Haney.

No longer — that is, if San Franciscans step up to get this measure passed.


In other news regarding fakes and phonies, it seems the winds in the Sunset and Parkside are blowing away from supervisor candidate Jessica Ho. Key endorsers are increasingly abandoning the candidate, following her ducking recent candidate forums for fancy fundraisers in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and downtown.

Now one Sunset influencer, John O’Riordan, is poised to back supervisor candidate Gordon Mar, sources tell me.

O’Riordan isn’t the typical Mar supporter. A key backer of Mayor London Breed, O’Riordan was one of a few locals who catapulted the mayor to a much-needed win on the West Side. I’m told key Breed allies are putting pressure on O’Riordan to back Ho, who Breed has already endorsed. But surprisingly, to me anyhow, it seems O’Riordan can’t be swayed on Ho: She’s just too inexperienced.

Sources familiar with these discussions said O’Riordan told friends and supporters that Ho is too much of an outsider to draw Sunset support, criticizing her sharply for being largely unfamiliar with Sunset and Parkside residents’ concerns. Readers of this column may recall Ho arrived in San Francisco from Los Angeles in March, and the majority of her funding is from Sacramento, Los Angeles, and other locales far and away from San Francisco.
Though some in the Sunset and Parkside worry Mar may be too progressive for the district, if O’Riordan truly does back him, it’ll lend major credence to the notion that he can be an independent supervisor. I’m told such an announcement is imminent this week — pointing to major trouble for Ho’s campaign in the sleepy West Side.

* * *

Any trekkies in the house? I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I’m such a Star Trek superfan I’ve practically got pointed Vulcan ears. That’s why I was delighted to learn one of the stars of the 1990s spinoff show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was visiting our lovely, humble Chinatown just a few weeks back.

Nana Visitor, who played freedom fighter-turned military officer Major Kira Nerys on DS9, spent a weekend in Napa with “dear friends” then “bummed around Sonoma and dipped into Chinatown for the best food,” she told me, via Twitter. She ate at R&G Lounge on Kearny Street, where she called the fried king crab “incredible.”

While I’m sure the crab was delicious (and now I’m rarin’ to try it), it sure beats the often-most eaten (fictional) meal on that Star Trek show: Gagh, a Klingon dish featuring live “serpent” worms. Q’plah!

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at

Update: This column initially identified John O’Riordan as chair of the Westside Democratic Club, yet after this column published some have disputed John O’Riordan’s membership to the club. We have removed the identifier while resolving this issue.

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