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Politics & Policy

‘Jesus Christ’: Small donors on Matt Haney’s big-ticket lifestyle

Matt Haney in a suit is speaking at a podium with a microphone, gesturing with his hand. Several people are standing behind him against a blurred brick background.
Assemblymember Matt Haney has spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money on tickets to sporting events, which he has called fundraisers. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Judging by his Instagram, Matt Haney‘s first two years in the state Assembly have been epic.

Since leaving the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco for the less toxic pastures of the state Capitol, Haney has taken pictures with celebrities and used almost six figures in campaign cash to attend some of the biggest events in sports and entertainment—from Broadway shows and a UFC fight to 49ers, Giants and Warriors games.

Outside of the UFC fight, all of these charges were tagged as fundraisers in campaign filings, but Instagram posts also frequently show Haney at these events with friends, family and staff—a practice that ethics experts called unusual if not excessive. Haney has so far declined to say who attended the fundraisers and how much money was raised beyond what is disclosed in campaign filings.

Records also show Haney has used campaign cash to take international flights to Rwanda and Dubai (for conferences on walking and climate, respectively), stay at 5-star hotels and become a member of the exclusive San Francisco social club The Battery.

A group of nine people is smiling and posing for a selfie at a sports stadium. They are wearing 49ers gear, and the stands in the background have scattered fans.
Assemblymember Matt Haney, second from left, posted a photo on Instagram of himself with his father, staff and others at the Jan. 20 game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.

The Standard reached out to individual donors to see how Haney’s campaign benefactors feel about the jet-setting lifestyle he has cultivated, with their support, since ascending to the state Assembly. Their reactions ranged from disenchanted to defensive—and suggest that few if any were invited to Haney’s game-day fundraisers. Haney’s Instagram posts suggest the fun was confined to him and his family and friends, and perhaps a few special interests.

Ken Coelho, a director at Alameda Health System, gave $100 to Haney’s campaign at the end of January, a contribution that was well below the $3,500 asking price for a ticket to one of two 49ers playoff game fundraisers. When informed of Haney’s annual membership to The Battery, Coelho let out a heavy sigh and said, “Jesus Christ.”

He added that more details around the validity of the sporting events should be disclosed and corroborated.

Adrienne Sims, a San Francisco firefighter who donated $100 to Haney’s campaign in February, said in a text message that the contribution was not connected to any of the sporting event fundraisers. 

“I have not been so lucky!” Sims wrote. “Lol.”

David Schoop, a chief operating officer for Wilcox Foods who gave $500 to the campaign, called Haney a “great person” and suggested the issue is larger than one legislator going to numerous sporting events on their donors’ dime.

“My concerns would be more for the entire political system as opposed to singling out Matt Haney,” Schoop said. “I think that all politicians do similar things and I’m not one to sit up here and judge.”

LeVale Simpson, an ethics and investigations expert with financial technology firm Intuit, said he met Haney more than a decade ago and gave the campaign $100 despite disagreeing with many of Haney’s positions.

“I don’t really agree with a lot of Matt’s politics or the things he stands for, but I agree with people who are accessible and unwavering when it comes to who they represent,” Simpson said.

Jeremy Haile, a policy director for the criminal justice reform group For the People, gave $100 to Haney’s campaign in December 2023. He was unaware of the money Haney has been spending on game tickets.

“Frankly, I didn’t even know that that was a thing,” Haile said.

Balling out

A closer inspection of Haney’s campaign records show a noticeable uptick in fundraisers that doubled as lifestyle spending after he won a special election in April 2022.

Haney had a nearly $10,000 fundraiser at a Giants game in June of that year before returning two months later on Aug. 16, 2022. That second fundraiser spent a little over $1,500 on food and drinks, according to campaign filings, but it’s not clear how tickets were acquired and dispersed. 

Haney posted photos on Instagram of him celebrating a walk-off home run that night with Ahsha Safaí and Shamann Walton, two former colleagues on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

Three jubilant people wearing San Francisco Giants gear celebrate in a stadium suite overlooking a baseball field. The background shows a cheering crowd.
A screenshot of Assemblymember Matt Haney's Instagram post showing him jump as San Francisco Supervisors Shamann Walton, left, Ahsha Safaí high-five at a San Francisco Giants game in August 2022.

Local officials are usually required to report free tickets as gifts, but state law allows them to accept up to two free tickets if they are part of a political fundraiser. A spokesperson for Safaí, who is running for mayor, said that Haney invited him to the Giants game fundraiser and many people were in attendance. 

Walton, who has been seen at multiple sporting events with Haney over the last two years, declined an interview request through a text message.

“You can make up whatever lies you want about me,” Walton wrote. “Thanks for the attention.”

Haney has been silent on social media since The Standard reported on his frequent mixing of business with pleasure. He has spent more than $65,000 on 49ers tickets to host fundraisers since the beginning of 2023.

Elizabeth Power, a political consultant for Haney who works for Bearstar Strategies, declined to answer additional questions sent by email Thursday.

Manuel Norris-Barrera, a 50-year-old Republican who is challenging Haney in November’s election, said that Haney’s campaign spending deserves closer scrutiny from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

“As a citizen of San Francisco, I think there should be an investigation—not just for the fact that he is my opponent,” said Norris-Barrera, who works in real estate and owns the Mission District deli Little Heaven. “I think people are losing faith in the system.”

Coelho and other small donors do not appear to have ever been invited to many of Haney’s big ticket events, leaving the likely guest list confined to a select group of friends, family and special interests.

Notable donors around the time of the Niners playoff games earlier this year include political action committees for consumer attorneys, labor unions, cable and telecommunications companies and real estate interests.

“It’s unfortunate I need to hear this from a reporter, and that public trust may have been destroyed,” Coelho said. “But we are still here.”