Last week, we noted that millions of dollars are flowing into San Francisco political races, but it’s unclear if voters care who’s writing the checks.

And, as if on cue, last week a $100,000 (so far) independent expenditure campaign targeting Mark Leno commenced — and, thanks to gaps between state and local reporting laws, its donors won’t be revealed until after June’s election, even if millions more are spent.

Of that $100 grand and change, some $27,000 went to mailers and $72,500 went to online ads stating that “Mark Leno sure is full of baloney,” while depicting his smiling visage on a package of baloney. This is unsubtle, un-nuanced fare, but the twists and turns donors and campaign operatives took to ensure you won’t know who paid for this until after the June 5 election were very subtle and nuanced indeed.

That’s because the group putting out these ads, “Voters for a Real Change, Opposing Mark Leno for Mayor 2018” got the $100,000 from another opaquely named group, “Safe & Affordable San Francisco.” And here’s where things get a bit gnarly: Despite its name, and despite the fact it appears to have spent exclusively on San Francisco-related matters, “Safe & Affordable San Francisco” is a state committee, not a local one.  As a state committee, “Safe & Affordable San Francisco” would have to disclose its donors by May 24, if its giving was related to the state’s June 5 primary.

But “Safe and Affordable San Francisco” has only given to local, San Francisco races — not state ones. So it won’t have to reveal its donors until July, by which time we’ll have a new mayor and the only recourse for angry voters will be fist-shaking.

“This is something that needs to be fixed, regarding the confluence of state and local laws,” said Trent Lange, the president and executive director of the California Clean Money Campaign. “This looks like an attempt by the donors to get around having their names show up by hiding behind a good-sounding front group.”

And yet, we do know who at least one of the big donors was — because, it appears, somebody screwed up.

On May 12, “Safe & Affordable San Francisco” filed a blank contribution report. What gives? In small text at the bottom, under “reason for amendment,” it notes “remove contribution.”

The group seems to have revealed more than it legally needed to, and took attempts to walk that back. But too late: These filings reveal that $50,000 was contributed by the San Francisco Apartment Association PAC — which the group’s executive director, Janan New, confirmed to Mission Local.

Our questions about who solicited this donation, and why the SFAA didn’t just give its money directly to the anti-Leno campaign instead of sending money to a Sacramento group to send back to San Francisco, were not quite answered in an e-mail from New.

“A group of local Democratic activists solicited this donation to the general purpose committee formed to support a variety of priorities in line with the SFAA’s agenda for this June 2018 election cycle,” she wrote. “The decision was made by our SFAA PAC committee.”

Perhaps that answer was shunted to Sacramento and back too, to ensure maximum opacity.

“Safe & Affordable San Francisco” was formed in December. Its sole listed principal officer, Shawnda Deane, also serves as treasurer for “Progress San Francisco,” the Ron Conway-affiliated PAC. That PAC has, thus far, sent $200,000 to the firefighters’ union’s pro-London Breed PAC — though Deane’s company is affiliated with many campaigns.

Messages for her have not yet been returned.  

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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