Supervisor Shamann Walton made national news after he proverbially smoked e-cigarette company JUUL, passing a vape ban in San Francisco under the auspices of protecting children.
But JUUL’s closest allies also lined Walton’s pockets the month after JUUL’s own measure to repeal that vape ban was defeated, public records reveal.
On this last New Year’s Eve, JUUL’s lobbyists in San Francisco, New Deal Advisers, contributed $5,000 to Walton’s campaign for the San Francisco Democratic Party board, a little-known elected body that exists in counties across the country to help the Democratic Party mobilize voters and set party-wide policies.
This is after City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Walton’s erstwhile ally in authoring the vape ban, said lobbyists and consultants working for JUUL took “blood money” by working for the company, as it has been accused of explicitly targeting children with its advertising.
Walton did give that money back, I should note, but only after this columnist called him to ask if he felt it was right to accept it in the first place.
The donation also arguably circumvents a 2016 ballot measure that bans elected officials from taking funding from entities that lobby them. But the Ethics Commission told me they have no jurisdiction to limit contributions to the Democratic Party, which is a state entity. So taking money for that election from a lobbyist is effectively taking advantage of a loophole.
At first, Walton argued that he had no problem accepting money from New Deal Advisers, JUUL’s main lobbyist.
“I am anti-JUUL,” he told me last Friday night. But, “there are several people we work with where we’re not always on the same page on all issues.”
That would be Chris Gruwell, CEO of New Deal Advisers, that Walton was referring to. Gruwell also represents the Teamsters Union, and Walton noted, “we are both very pro-labor.”
About three hours later, Walton sent me a text message saying he would give Gruwell the money back, adding it’s the “right thing to do.”
The donations also skirt around a local San Francisco Democratic Party policy enacted in 2016 to not accept donations over $500. State law governs Democratic Party board donations, which are effectively unlimited. San Francisco politicians in local races could not accept donations topping $500.
While non-binding, most city Democrats are adhering to the Democratic Party campaign contribution limit voluntarily.
But not all. In addition to Walton, Supervisor Hillary Ronen, former supervisor (and current Bernie Sanders campaign coordinator in California) Jane Kim, and Abra Castle are all candidates running for the Democratic Party who took in donations that busted that $500 amount.
Kim did not return a request for comment, and Ronen said she would not return the money, which constituted a $1,000 donation from attorney Scott Handleman.
Walton was by far the largest beneficiary of oversized donations, however, with contributions totaling $3,000 from Outer Sunset Holdings, Inc., and $3,000 from BCSF, Inc., the nonprofit owner of Barbary Coast cannabis, who counts political consultant David Ho as one of its co-owners.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.