Use of election funds for schools meets resistance

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to take up to $6 million in unused public funding for the mayoral election and use it for a college-readiness program is drawing criticism from members of the Board of Supervisors who passed the campaign reformlegislation.

In 2006, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation that created a public-financing program for candidates for mayor. This is the first mayoral race in which the funding is available to candidates who show they have broad support by raising $25,000 in donations from 250 candidates. In doing so, the legislation allows them to receive public matching funds up to $850,000. In exchange for matching funds, the candidate agrees to limit fundraising to $1.375 million.

Only one candidate in the race — John Rinaldi, known by his showman’s name, Chicken John — has attempted to qualify for public financing. He has not yet been approved because his list of donors is missing some of the required information.

“If he’s successful, certainly he’s not going to exhaust the entire pot,” Newsom said Monday at a news conference to announce the college readiness program, S.F. Promise. “We can put the [unused] money in an account to collect dust for the next four years … but why not use these dollars now?”

At a cost of between $800 to $2,300 per student, per year, the S.F. Promise program would encourage disadvantaged families with sixth-graders in the San Francisco Unified School District to sign up for a seven-year college preparedness program.

School officials say nearly half of the district’s 3,600 sixth-graders would qualify for the program this year — but city officials have proposed jump-starting S.F. Promise with a pilot class of only 350 students.

According to the public financing legislation, only when the mayoral election campaign fund reached $12 million would the extra money be rolled back into The City’s general fund for spending.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin called Newsom’s proposal “laudable” but said there were other, equally pressing funding needs within The City. He questioned why the mayor would circumvent the budget process, which is how funding priorities are allocated.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who authored the legislation extending public financing to the mayor’s race, said he was surprised the mayor would make such a premature promise with funds already allocated for one purpose.

In order to amend the legislation to reallocate the public financing funding, Newsom will need to get the approval of four-fifths of the Ethics Commission and two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors.

If the effort to reallocate the funding is unsuccessful, Newsom said he’d still move forward with S.F. Promise.

CORRECTION

On Monday, Sept. 16, The Examiner incorrectly reported that $6 million for a proposed college-readiness program called S.F. Promise was coming from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s leftover re-election campaign funds. It should have been reported that the funds are in fact coming from the public mayoral election campaign fund.

beslinger@examiner.com

Each day until voters go to the polls Nov. 6, The Examiner lays odds on local figures beating Mayor Gavin Newsom. Check out our exclusive blog: San Francisco's Next Mayor?

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