Reilly-Ma Assembly primary may be most expensive ever

The attacks and counterattacks are intensifying in what may be the most expensive state Assembly race ever.

The winner of the June 6 Democratic primary race in District 12, which includes San Francisco and parts of northern San Mateo County, would be the heavy favorite in November’s general election. The contest pits relative political newcomer Janet Reilly, wife of real estate mogul and former political consultant Clint Reilly, against San Francisco Supervisor Fiona Ma, a former aide to the powerful former state legislator John Burton.

All told, the candidates and their supporters have spent or stand poised to spend more than $1 million each by the June 6 primary. That’s nearly three times what it cost current Assemblyman Leland Yee to win the seat in 2002, campaign finance records show, and the highest total many political observers can recall.

Reilly, who has loaned her own campaign more than $236,000, raised $424,000 from March 18 to May 20, according to reports filed Thursday, and spent about $569,000 during the same period.

Ma raised about $279,000 during the March to May filing period. During that period, she spent nearly 75 percent of the $572,000 she has expended so far this year.

Reilly has criticized Ma for benefitting from the more than $700,000 spent by independent expenditure committees on Ma’s behalf. Such groups are not subject to the $3,300 individual contribution limit but must operate independently of a candidate’s campaign. Eric Jaye, Reilly’s campaign consultant, charges that Ma has improperly collaborated with the groups and that it has given her an unfair advantage.

“Janet will give everything she can to help her campaign, but there is no way she can come close to what Ma is receiving from Sacramento special interests,” he said.

One of the independent expenditure groups, Leaders for an Effective Government, has paid for a campaign mailer criticizing Reilly for sending her child to a “private” school. Reilly shot back last week with a mailer of her own defending her choice of a Catholic school, and a letter handed out at Sunday Mass by supporters said the mailer showed an “anti-Catholic attitude.”

Supervisor Ma spent the last four years supporting disadvantaged businesses in The City and working to improve pedestrian safety, said Tom A. Hsieh, her campaign consultant. She supports statewide universal health care and would fight to see that schools receive the millions they were promised under Proposition 98, Hsieh said.

“The big difference between the two candidates is that Ma has a solid track record of making tough votes and reaching compromises,” Hsieh said. “All her opponent has are essentially some lofty political promises.”

Reilly has made universal health care a cornerstone of her campaign, though state Sen. Sheila Kuehl — a Ma supporter — has accused Reilly of stealing her plan and passing it off as her own, a charge the Reilly camp denies. Reilly also supports enhanced training and support for K-12 teachers, reduced college tuition and the use of tax breaks to draw green technology businesses to the Bay Area, Jaye said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com Staff writer Josh Sabatini contributed to this report.

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