Skip to main content
Politics & Policy

Sky’s the limit as Daniel Lurie will use his deep pockets for mayor’s race

Daniel Lurie in a white shirt and blue tie speaks passionately at a podium with two microphones, gesturing with his right hand against a dark background.
Daniel Lurie’s decision to self-fund his campaign all but guarantees that the San Francisco mayor’s race will be the most expensive in city history. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

The most expensive mayor’s race in San Francisco history might need to add an extra zero when it’s all said and done, as Daniel Lurie—a nonprofit founder and heir to the Levi’s Strauss fortune—announced Friday that his campaign will eschew the city’s public financing program that caps spending.

Speculation has been building in recent months that Lurie, who is believed to be a centimillionaire, would self-fund his campaign to raise his name ID and remain competitive in what is becoming a crowded race to unseat Mayor London Breed. 

Lurie, Breed and Mark Farrell, a former supervisor who was briefly appointed mayor in 2018, are all running as moderate Democrats, pitting them close together not only on policy issues, but also when it comes to tapping campaign donors. Other notable candidates courting the more progressive side of local politics include Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Ahsha Safaí.

Lurie’s campaign framed Friday’s announcement as a move to save taxpayer dollars, as qualifying mayoral candidates can max out public financing at $1.2 million if they receive enough contributions from city residents.

“Amid a massive deficit and frontline workers who are understaffed and overworked, I’m not going to take over a million dollars of taxpayer money to fund my campaign,” Lurie said. “The amount I’d receive in public financing could pay the salaries of 10 police officers or 15 teachers. There are limited taxpayer resources and they’re better spent protecting and educating our community than on my campaign.”

Daniel Lurie in a white shirt and tie speaks at a podium with a sign that reads "Daniel Lurie for Mayor" in English and Chinese characters.
Daniel Lurie said he will self-fund his mayoral campaign to avoid using public matching funds, which can reach as high as $1.2 million for qualifying candidates. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Lurie’s campaign would not disclose how much money he intends to spend, but it is not likely to come anywhere near the $100 million Rick Caruso spent on the 2022 mayor’s race in Los Angeles. However, Lurie could spend millions of his own money.

Breed won the previous most-expensive mayor’s race in San Francisco history in 2018, when she beat out Mark Leno and Jane Kim in a special election that totaled roughly $8.4 million in campaign and outside spending. The Board of Supervisors appointed Farrell to the role of mayor in January of that year, following Breed’s serving in an interim capacity after the unexpected death of Mayor Ed Lee.

Lee was the last major candidate for mayor to forego public financing, but he didn’t operate in the same tax bracket as Lurie. The Standard obtained financial records filed by the candidate’s wife that show Lurie has investments in numerous hedge funds and a substantial stake in Levi’s. Lurie has held assets worth up to tens of millions of dollars, if not much more.

Lurie’s family has also been active in the mayor’s race, with his mother and brother helping to fund an independent committee that spent millions on billboards, mailers and other efforts.

Other candidates in the race were quick to pounce on Lurie’s plan to fund his own campaign.

Jade Tu, Farrell’s campaign manager, accused him of making the announcement late on a Friday to avoid voters’ attention.

“No matter how much Lurie and his family are willing to pay, the Mayor’s Office isn’t for sale,” Tu said. “San Francisco voters want experience and competence in their next mayor with a strong vision for our city’s future—not a candidate who is trying to buy an election.”

Derek Jansen, a political consultant for Safaí’s campaign, also accused Lurie of trying to use his and family’s wealth to win the mayor’s race.

“Daniel’s billionaire family has already spent over $3 million trying to buy his way to relevance, so it’s no surprise that he’s using his family’s money to try and buy Room 200,” Jansen said. “It didn’t work for billionaire Rick Caruso in LA, and it won’t fool San Franciscan voters.”

Officials for Lurie’s campaign declined to note how much money his campaign has raised and spent to date, beyond noting that 63% of his 2,319 unique donors came from people living in San Francisco.

Earlier this week, Farrell’s campaign announced he had raised more than $520,000 in the first 100 days of the campaign while also qualifying for an additional $830,000 in matching funds from the city. Safaí’s campaign announced that it had secured enough contributions to unlock matching funds, bringing the campaign’s total haul to more than $900,000.

Candidates for mayor will be required to disclose fundraising through the first half of this year on July 31.

Correction: This story has been updated to note that semi-annual disclosures are due July 31.