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Politics & Policy

Donors pour big bucks into campaign to stop police staffing measure

Police cars with flashing lights in front of a city skyline, surrounded by piles of cash.
Opponents of Prop. B—which would bolster police staff but add a future tax—have contributed over half a million dollars to stop the measure this month alone. | Source: Illustration by Jesse Rogala/The Standard

The city’s March election is just 259 hours away. Yes, we’re counting that—along with the immense amount of money pouring into what many consider to be one of the most consequential election seasons in San Francisco in decades. 

Since the beginning of this month, donors have poured well over $1 million into a handful of local campaigns, making their last-ditch pitches to voters. The dollar figure does not capture some contributions that have not been reported yet this month.

There are two key battlegrounds on March 5. First are the seven propositions before voters, some of which could make drastic changes to rules surrounding policing and social services. 

Another is the Democratic County Central Committee, or the DCCC, where 24 open seats are up for grabs. Progressives and moderates are duking it out over control of the committee, which governs the local Democratic Party and will issue endorsements in fiercely contested November contests for mayor, Board of Supervisors and other positions.  

Voters will also weigh in on a senate race and Prop. 1, a state ballot measure to fund mental health treatment, and decide whether to boot two Superior Court judges.

Cash flowing to Propositions B and F

Proposition B, which would establish and fund a minimum number of police officers contingent on a future tax, is attracting deep-pocketed opposition. This month alone, donors have poured more than $618,400 into a group calling itself the “Stop the Cop Tax” committee.

The ballot measure was originally conceived by Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who wanted to bolster police ranks by about 100 officers a year, in part through large signing bonuses. Skepticism grew after the Controller’s Office determined the effort could cost the city up to $300 million over five years. 

An amendment was then added by Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who made the staffing contingent on voters amending an existing tax or approving a new one at some point in the future. In response, Dorsey pulled his support from the revised measure and accused Safaí of throwing a “poison pill” into it. 

The Board of Supervisors approved the measure in November in a narrow 6-5 vote. Support is coming from the board’s president, Aaron Peskin, and unions like Service Employees International Union 1021 and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21’s PAC. They claim another stream of funding for police could open up more staffing opportunities for other first responders like firefighters and paramedics.

Major donations to the anti-Prop. B campaign include a whopping $618,400 from Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy, $50,000 from tech executive Chris Larsen and $10,000 from the city’s police union. Since Feb. 1, the San Francisco Labor Council has given a relatively paltry $2,500 in support of Prop. B.

Three police officers are sitting on a bench; two are on their phones, and one looks pensive. There's greenery behind them on a gray wall.
Prop. B, which would set a police staffing mandate but require a future tax, is attracting deep-pocketed opposition. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Overall, the top three measures that have attracted the most money are Prop. B with $1.77 million, Prop. E with $1.67 million and Prop. A with $648,554. 

The other proposition seeing heavy cash flow this month is Prop. F, which would allow the city to screen welfare recipients for illicit drug use and require them to seek treatment as a condition of receiving cash benefits. Placed on the ballot by Mayor London Breed, the measure comes in response to an overdose crisis that has taken the lives of thousands of San Franciscans. Recent surveys suggest that Prop. F is popular with voters, with 61% in favor, according to recent polling conducted by the Chamber of Commerce.

A total of $288,400 has been pushed toward the measure’s approval this month, with $100,000 in funding coming from businessman Kevin Xu and another $100,000 from conservative socialite Diane “Dede” Wilsey. Opposition dollars are coming from the Tenants and Owners Development Corporation (TODCO), along with SEIU Local 1021’s PAC, which have collectively contributed $25,000 since the start of the month.

“There is certainly a move by some toward more moderate, if not conservative, policies,” said Larry Gerston, San Jose State University political science professor emeritus. “And it really began with the recall of [former District Attorney Chesa] Boudin. That is when it started. And I think it continues in various ways, in particular with some of these ballot issues.”

Will moderates take over the DCCC?

The fight over the DCCC, or “D-trip” as it is known among political junkies, will play out over 14 seats representing the city’s east side (Assembly District 17) and 10 seats in the west (Assembly District 19). 

The makeup of the current committee is roughly three-quarters progressive—and moderates are attempting to swing seats for one very important reason. The DCCC controls the official San Francisco Democratic Party endorsements for local races, which are promoted to hundreds of thousands of registered Democrats. The group also passes policy resolutions and helps to register voters.

Across both assembly districts, the top three candidates across both assembly districts raised are all moderates: Bilal Mahmood, Michael Lai and Dorsey on the east side, along with Marjan Philhour, Supervisor Catherine Stefani and Lanier Coles on the west. Each are running as part of the moderate-backed Democrats for Change slate.

A smiling woman in teal attire is foregrounded with onlookers behind her in an indoor setting.
Marjan Philhour, a candidate for DCCC and Board of Supervisors, has raised more than $200,000 for her DCCC campaign. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Ben Kaplan, founder of the newly formed moderate political group WE San Francisco, said the DCCC candidates also running for other seats—such as Mahmood and Philhour, who are both running for the Board of Supervisors in November—hold an innate advantage. Mahmood and Philhour have both raised more than $200,000 for their DCCC campaigns, far outpacing most candidates for the committee.

“There are two ways people go about winning,” Kaplan said. “One theory, it's purely name recognition. When you’re voting for so many people at once, it's hard to break through. Some people win like that.”

This month, Mahmood, who is running for supervisor against progressive Supervisor Dean Preston, has nabbed $5,000 from venture capitalist Steven Merrill. Lai received $5,000 each from tech executive Josh Albrecht and Jared Friedman of Y Combinator, a startup incubator. That group’s founder, Garry Tan, has pushed $5,000 toward Lily Ho, another moderate candidate on the city’s east side. 

Though progressives haven’t seen as much monetary support, a whopping $40,000 from SEIU’s Local 1021 PAC was contributed this month to Kristin Hardy, a medical records clerk. And Patrick Bell, a plumber with San Francisco’s Water District, got $10,000 from the progressive Labor and Working Families Slate.

Daniel Anderson, a consultant with the progressive slate, said the amount of money headed toward moderate candidates has been “shocking”—but he remains convinced his group’s candidates will retain their edge on the DCCC.

“We’re confident that our endorsements and field work will activate Democrats who are not down with the billionaires trying to buy the election,” he said.