$2 Million Fills War Chests of S.F. Candidates as Races Heat Up


With two months until Election Day, more than $2 million has been amassed in the collective war chests for eight local candidate campaigns, 90 percent of which has been raised for six Board of Supervisors seats. Community college board and school board members will also be elected.

Since January, more than $8.77 million has been spent on all local races, according to San Francisco Ethics Commission records. Close to two-thirds of that — about $6 million — was spent just on the June primary, which included the Democratic County Central Committee races, five city ballot measures and contests for state assembly and senate.

As of Tuesday (Sept. 6), $1.9 million had been spent on the 25 local propositions that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Unlike ballot measure campaigns, which can solicit unlimited amounts of contributions from individual donors, local candidates can accept a maximum of only $500 from an individual.

This is where unlimited contributions to general purpose committees (a.k.a., political action committees or third-party expenditure committees) come into play. These PACs can raise and spend limitless amounts of cash in support of or against a candidate. In 2015, these types of committees spent around $1 million on just the District 3 supervisor’s race between Aaron Peskin and Julie Christensen.

Only two such committees have dropped money on the fall election so far, according to the most recent San Francisco Ethics Commission filings. “San Franciscans for a City That Works” has spent $30,932 in support of Marjan Philhour for District 1 supervisor and $12,964 in support of Joshua Arce in District 9. Both are considered the moderates in each race. In District 11, SEIU Local 1021 has spent $4,609 in support of Kim Alvarenga, its political director, who has the backing of outgoing progressive Supervisor John Avalos.

“San Franciscans for a City That Works” has spent more than $115,000 total this year, with contributions primarily from the San Francisco Police Officers Association and several other labor unions. (See the data here.)

Campaign contributions and spending will ratchet up in September and continue flowing through Election Day, driving the seemingly endless torrent of mailers and television ads. But with six seats open on the Board of Supervisors — and with them, moderate or progressive control — a few campaigns have been filling their war chests and spending big.

Overall, candidate campaigns have already spent close to $1 million — nearly half of what has been raised, according to Ethics Commission data as of Tuesday. Totals also include public financing, loans or miscellaneous cash received.

The 2015 election was the most expensive to date in San Francisco, with nearly $28 million spent on candidates and ballot measures, a Public Press analysis of campaign finance records revealed. This year is expected to match or exceed that total, given that voters will choose half of the Board of Supervisors seats and decide 25 local propositions.  

See the summer 2016 issue of the Public Press for the full report: The Rising Cost of Winning Votes 

Here is a breakdown of the spending so far in the 2016 candidate races:

Board of Supervisors, total amount raised per district
District 1: $400,210
District 3: $37,720
District 5: $436,567
District 7: $265,230
District 9: $464,678
District 11: $269,281

Board of Supervisors, total spending per district
District 1: $237,027
District 3: $27,053
District 5: $224,992
District 7: $102,001
District 9: $236,643
District 11: $72,363

Spending, by contest
District 1 — 10 candidates running to replace outgoing Supervisor Eric Mar
Marjan Philhour
Sandra Lee Fewer
David Lee
Sherman D’Silva
Andy Thornley
Jason Jungreis
Jonathan Lyens
Richie Greenberg
Brian Larkin
Samuel Kwong

Marjan Philhour, a political consultant who lost her reelection bid for the Democratic central committee in June, has collected nearly $200,000 in contributions and cash. Sandra Lee Fewer, a San Francisco School Board commissioner, has a bit over half that amount: $120,178. Philhour has also outspent Fewer by 3-to-1: $134,131 to Fewer’s $44,688. Also notable: the Democratic committee has endorsed Fewer. David Lee, who lost to Mar four years ago, has raised $39,578 and spent $15,847.

District 3 — 2 candidates
Aaron Peskin, incumbent
Tim Donnelly

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who held the seat from 2005 to 2009 and was board president, beat mayoral appointee Julie Christensen last November for the seat that former Supervisor David Chiu vacated when he was elected to the State Assembly in 2014.  Tim E. Donnelly, a residential property manager, is challenging Peskin for a permanent, full-term seat but has not raised or spent any money, according to campaign finance records. Peskin has raised $37,720 and spent about two-thirds of it —$27,053.

District 5 — 2 candidates
London Breed, incumbent
Dean Preston

Board of Supervisors President London Breed has out-raised and outspent Dean Preston, a housing rights advocate and former civil rights lawyer. Breed has raised $253,915 to Preston’s $182,652, including cash on hand. Breed spent $121,451, about $18,000 more than Preston.

District 7 — 5 candidates
Norman Yee, incumbent
Ben Matranga
Joel Engardio
Michael Young
John Farrell

Supervisor Norman Yee has gathered as much as of all of his challengers combined: $129,008 to $130,122, and has spent $52,345. Ben Matranga, a “senior advisor” with the city and county who formerly served as a San Francisco Youth Commissioner and investment officer with the Soros Economic Development Fund, has raised $65,999 in contributions and cash and spent about half: $27,902. Joel Engardio, a content marketer and San Francisco Examiner columnist, has the next largest war chest — $47,416, of which he has spent $8,564.

District 9 — 4 candidates running to replace outgoing Supervisor David Campos
Hillary Ronen
Joshua Arce
Melissa San Miguel
Isawari Espana

Hillary Ronen, Campos’ chief of staff, has amassed close to double the contributions and cash as Joshua Arce, a community liaison for Laborers Union Local 261: $272,469 to $156,229. And she has spent almost twice a much as Arce, who lost reelection to the Democratic central committee in June — $134,072 to $76,303.

District 11 — 5 candidates running to replace outgoing Supervisor John Avalos
Ahsha Safai
Kimberly Alvarenga
Francisco Herrera
Magdalena De Guzman
Berta Hernandez

Ahsha Safai has amassed $148,558 to Kimberly Alvarenga’s $119,664. Only one other challenger, Berta Hernandez, has raised any money: $1,059. Safai and Alvarenga have spent $49,899 and $21,832, respectively. The Democratic central committee opted for “no endorsement” in this race. Safai, who worked in the administrations of former mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, is the political director of SEIU Local 87 and owns Kitchen Cabinet Public Affairs. Alvarenga is the political director of SEIU Local 1021 and previously worked on Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s staff.

Community College Board — 5 candidates running for four open seats
Alex Randolph, incumbent
Rafael Mandelman, incumbent
Amy Bacharach, incumbent
Shanell Williams
Tom Temprano

The City College of San Francisco board is responsible for making policy and budget decisions for the school, which has been operating with stabilization funding from the state as it works toward maintaining its accreditation. The candidates have a collective war chest of $69,888, of which they have spent $42,170. Challenger Tom Temprano has raised $28,083 and spent $19,780 the most, followed by current Board President Rafael Mandelman, who has spent $10,749 of his $15,590 in contributions.

Board of Education — 9 candidates running for four open seats
Ian Kalin
Rachel Norton, incumbent
Rob Geller
Stevon Cook
Jill Wynns, incumbent
Phillip Kim
Trevor McNeil
Matthew Haney, incumbent
Mark Sanchez

San Francisco Unified School District serves around 57,000 students each year, and has a proposed budget of $566 million for the 2016-2017 school year. Altogether, the candidates have a war chest of $131,777, of which they have spent $45,219. Current Board President Matthew Haney has raised the most — $48,545 — and spent $13,020, but challenger Ian Kalin has spent the most — $16,188, nearly all of his $17,625 in contributions.

Under current law, lobbyists are allowed to “bundle” political donations collected from individuals, but a measure on the November ballot, Proposition T, seeks to restrict this practice. Graphics by Sara Bloomberg / San Francisco Public Press

Don't miss out on our newest articles, episodes and events!
Sign up for our newsletter