District Attorney Chesa Boudin on election night in 2019. Photo by Julian Mark.

Early this summer, the campaign to recall San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin was lagging behind the anti-recall camp in its funding, according to Ethics Commission data.

On June 18, that changed dramatically.

Some $300,000 from a political action committee called Neighbors for a Better San Francisco dropped in a single day. From then on, the PAC dominated the recall campaign, making several more huge donations over the next few months. By the end of October, it had donated upwards of $1 million — almost two-thirds of total pro-recall donations.

State filing laws mean that anyone who gave money to the Neighbors PAC after June 31 won’t be disclosed until January, 2022, but prior filings reveal that it has been financed by a handful of extremely wealthy donors.

In June, it received a total of $720,000 from just nine donors: Paul Holden Spaht Jr, Miriam L. Haas, Jason Moment, William F. Duhamel, Matthew Paige, Kevin Marchetti (on behalf of Kams Cold Storage LLC), John C. Atwater, Diane “Dede” Wilsey and Thomas Perkins.

Take a look at how the Neighbors PAC contributions changed the funding race in the chart below. The above names won’t come up, as they are subsumed into the Neighbors PAC, but we will delve into the details of that PAC later. For now, hover over the circles to see who donated — PACs and individuals — and use the search bar to find specific donors.

The campaign to recall Boudin raised far more money than its opposition, mainly thanks to a single PAC

Please note: The two $150,000 payments from the Neighbors PAC on June 18 were given to two holding committees. Some $220,000 of that money was later passed on to the San Franciscans for Public Safety committee. These later payments were removed from the chart to avoid counting the money twice.

Up until June 18, the anti-recall committees had raised $482,000, giving them a $43,000 lead over the recall, thanks in part to huge donations from tech-investor billionaire Chris Larsen and Real Justice PAC. Attorneys, professors, and the unemployed were more likely to donate to the anti-recall effort, while retirees and businesspeople gave more to the pro-recall camp.

But donations from Neighbors for a Better San Francisco swiftly became the most important part of the campaign-finance puzzle. Exclude this single PAC and, by the end of October, the gap between the pro-recall and anti-recall committees would be a negligible $13,000. With the PAC included, the gap is $1.08 million.

All this PAC money was sent to committees supporting the second Boudin recall effort, run by San Franciscans for Public Safety and led by registered Democrats Mary Jung and Andrea Shorter. Jung, who is the treasurer of San Franciscans for Public Safety, has also described herself online as “volunteer director” of the Neighbors PAC.

An earlier attempt to trigger a recall of Boudin, fronted by former Republican mayoral hopeful Richie Greenberg, failed to gather enough signatures by their August deadline. But the second effort, led by Jung and Shorter, gathered over 83,000 signatures, thundering past the 51,325 requirement.

Thanks in large part to the Neighbors PAC, the second recall effort had what the first lacked: money to pay professional signature gatherers.

What PAC money can buy

“If you’re willing to spend $1 million to get an initiative on the ballot, you will get that initiative on the ballot,” said Julie Edwards, spokesperson for the Friends of Chesa Boudin. “A colleague of mine likes to say that with enough money, you could get a ban on ice cream on the ballot.”

Shorter, a leader of the second recall effort, disagreed that money led to their success. She said that the second recall won where the first faltered because it was being run by Democrats rather than Republicans, and because there was widespread opposition to Boudin’s perceived leniency on crime.

“San Francisco is a Democratic city,” said Shorter. “The first recall was Republican-led. That made it too easy for Chesa Boudin and his supporters to dismiss genuine concerns.”

Whether concerns are genuine or not, money is the elixir of signature gathering – so much so that seven states ban paying per signature. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently vetoed such a measure in California.

According to Shorter, 70 to 75 percent of the signature gatherers on the second recall effort were paid professionals, mainly recruited via a company called Ballcamp. Ballcamp received $977,000 from the recall campaign. Gatherers were paid $10 per signature, which critics have argued encourages aggressive tactics and misrepresentation of what the signatures are for.

Last year, Trader Joe’s sued Ballcamp over how it gathered signatures for a separate group of California petitions. The grocery chain argued that its customers had been “aggressively harassed” by gatherers who refused to leave their stores when asked.

“Any impropriety brought to our attention was dealt with immediately,” said Shorter, speaking about the Ballcamp employees who worked for the recall campaign. “Those instances were very rare and individuals involved were dealt with or dismissed.”

In the anti-recall camp, campaign finance data shows that they spent primarily on campaign consulting, voter outreach and polling, among other miscellaneous costs.

How the Neighbors PAC moved its money

The lion’s share of the Neighbors PAC donations went directly to San Franciscans for Public Safety, the leader of the successful recall effort. The remaining $300,000 was divided evenly between two secondary committees: Stop All Asian Hate and the San Francisco Common Sense Voter Guide.

However, all but $80,000 of the money sent to these two committees was forwarded right on to San Franciscans for Public Safety. Filings with the Ethics Commission describe these payments as “earmarked” for San Franciscans for Public Safety, and call the two minor committees “intermediaries” for the donations.

The Neighbors PAC donated to two small committees, but most of that money went to San Franciscans for Public Safety

$845,000

San

Franciscans

for

Public

Safety

Neighbors

for a Better

San Francisco

PAC

$150,000

$125,000

Stop All

Asian Hate

$150,000

$165,000

Fed Up

San Francisco

PAC

San Francisco

Common Sense

Voter Guide

Other

$73,615

Neighbors for a Better

San Francisco PAC

Fed Up San

Francisco PAC

$73,615

$150,000

$150,000

San

Francisco

Common

Sense

Voter

Guide

Stop

All

Asian

Hate

$845,000

$165,000

$125,000

$25,000

San Franciscans for

Public Safety

Other

It is unclear why the Neighbors PAC would send its money via interstitial committees, but this does have the effect of suggesting that three committees are fighting for the recall when, in reality, much of the money comes from a single source.

It also makes keeping track of the money more difficult. In the Ethics Commission data, much of the money is apparently being listed as incoming funds twice: Once on the way into the interstitial committees, and once on the way into San Franciscans for Public Safety.

Where the PAC money came from

This is where things get (even more) complicated.

The Neighbors PAC received millions in donations in 2020, primarily to support a raft of moderate Democratic electoral hopefuls. By the end of the year, the PAC still had $356,000 in its coffers that could potentially be later used to help fund the Boudin recall. But not everyone who donated to the PAC in 2020 supported the recall in 2021.

For instance, top donor Michael Moritz said over email that while he contributed $300,000 to the PAC in 2020, that donation had nothing to do with the Boudin recall. He said that his donation had been made on the understanding that it would all be spent on a separate election.

Similarly, Chris Larsen was one of the biggest contributors to the PAC in 2020, but later donated $100,000 to the anti-recall campaign.

This means that our understanding of exactly who was donating to the Neighbors PAC with the intention of supporting the recall is limited. Although an imperfect measure, we can see who donated money up to June 31, 2021 to get a sense of the PAC’s donor base.

The Neighbors for a Better San Francisco PAC has been financed by some 74 — mainly extremely wealthy — donors

The Neighbors PAC lists fewer than 80 contributors in current state filings. The average monetary contribution sits at over $50,000. Many of the top contributors are venture capitalists, hedge-fund managers and investment bankers.

On the Safer SF Without Boudin website, which is paid for by San Franciscans for Public Safety, we can see a few more interesting details. Top donors must be disclosed more regularly there, and their latest update names William Oberndorf, a hedge-fund manager and Republican donor, as the single biggest contributor to the Neighbors PAC. To date, he has donated more than $600,000.

What is next for the campaigns?

Both campaigns are still busy with voter outreach and ads. Their intensity will only ramp up as the recall election approaches on June 7, 2022.

If this year’s signature-gathering phase of the campaign serves as a barometer for the election proper, we can expect more large PAC donations in the coming months, along with all the thorny transparency issues they bring with them.

For now, we will need to wait for the Neighbors PAC’s January 2022 filing for a more complete sense of who funded the recall effort in the latter half of 2021.

Methodology

The charts and analysis in this article are based on figures from the Ethics Commission campaign finance dashboard.

The Ethics Commission records all payments between committees as well as payments to committees from donors such as PACs. This can lead to double-counting, with funds counted on their way into committees and as they are transferred between committees.

To remove this double counting, we discounted transfers from Stop All Asian Hate and the San Francisco Common Sense Voter Guide to San Franciscans for Public Safety wherever the smaller committees were described as intermediaries for Neighbors PAC funds. This means that the totals in our analyses appear $220,000 lower than they do on the Ethics Commission dashboard.

The first bubble chart includes donations to both the first recall effort led by Greenberg and the second recall effort led by Shorter and Jung.

The colors in the first bubble chart are based on self-reported occupation data. The colors in the second bubble chart are based on our investigation of the donors.

Many thanks to the Ethics Commission staff for their help parsing this data.

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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18 Comments

  1. Great work! Thanks for peeling open the onion for us. The use of leftover campaign funds by the PAC is very interesting and problematic.

    1. Will, good work. Please continue to follow this recall . The commercial on tv was disgusting. Most of the people featured are despicable. And is exactly what’s wrong with our politics.

  2. Finally a breakdown of who is paying for this campaign against Chesa Boudin. Thank you!!! This campaign is in the hands of the rich and powerful, who are able to give $50,000 or more to this campaign. The support by the Right is almost secret, not openly stated in their constant TV ads, and slanted to look like the recall is supported by “the people”. Not true!! It is supported by very rich conservatives and organizations with a small group of people from the DA’s office and the public who seem to have been taken in by their own rhetoric – Mr. Boudin is apparently responsible for all the ills (including violence against Asians) of the current very backward criminal justice system. The betrayal by some of his current staff is shocking and inexcusable! Some replacements are called for if he survives this very well paid for campaign against him and those he is trying to protect. There is no doubt Mr. Boudin has made some mistakes but so what? He is one of the most progressive and knowledgeable national advocates for the rights of the most neglected and persecuted section of our population in the country. He needs the space and support of this community to do better and to make much needed changes. Finally, I am sick and tired of the rich determining social policy in this town when all they understand is what they read in the paper or see in social media. Not a single ex-con among them. Not only are they ignorant but their self-interest is not affected by what goes on in our jails. Ignorance and being heartless is a toxic combination!!

  3. Big money works both ways – buying elections is nothing new: “The CEO backed up his online barbs by pouring $1 million of his own money as well as more than $4 million from Salesforce into the Yes on C campaign.”

  4. Awesome analysis! It seems like a bunch of Boudin supporters actually reside outside SF – ideological support is great, but those of us who live In SF need to think practical ramifications of the policies on ground

  5. I hope chesa is out of office soon. He’s killing the city. I’m a not-rich democrat and I contributed to the campaign.

  6. Why is the SEIU contributing, to any degree, to this case?

    Could it be that they represent security officers? Who are needed to step in when the police pull back?

  7. Stop trying to make it look like this recall campaign is run by dark money or corporate interests. I’m a normal person living in San Francisco who is sick and tired of all the crazy druggies, cars with smashed windows, needles lying everywhere, stepping over poop, and seeing our city in the national news for looting. There is an air of total lawlessness here and it’s scary.

  8. How much did the Real Justice PAC contribute?

    Also, I’ve noticed that Boudin has access to Act Blue donations many of which are from donations outside of SF. The recalls do not appear to have access to Act Blue platform donations.

  9. As a middle class Latino from the mission. Me and my entire family and neighbors support the recall. These progressive antics don’t work. We love Sfpd and want a safe city to raise our family in. God bless.

  10. Chesa is most dangerous lawyer in U.S.A. to the super rich,

    Notice that the people funding the campaign made their money using illegal business models which they then bribed politicians and lobbyists and newspapers and preachers and who knows who else and how much … to make what they did illegally legal which in one industry (taxi) cost hundreds of thousands their careers!

    Uber and Lyft and AirBnB and Pay Pay … all illegal business models designed to destroy the middle class.

    These are the people using your voices to condemn the one guy who might go after them.

    He’s the best and they know it.

    David Chiu sure the hell ain’t going after them.

    Boudin’s also working with Gascon and Gonzalez and the guy in Philly and the one just on the news from somewhere else back east …

    working to overturn cash bail which by its very nature is discriminatory; why should we both kill our wives but you remain in jail for couple of years while I keep partying hearty cause I own a software company?

    Will turn over a thousand years of English Jurisprudence.

    And, save billions in cash and thousands of years of anal rape.

    Yeah, there’s that too.

    Sure, recall Chesa and let’s get back to building that jail and prison populations larger and larger and larger while we’re already the largest in the world.

    Justice Reform?

    Not in San Francisco if these folks and their billions have any say.

    h.

    Gonna switch back to my ‘save chesa’ sign for tomorrow’s 5 mile walk.

    Campos just needs to keep the Developer’s new best friend, Haney under 50%.

    Niners are out and my Sundays are free til baseball season starts.

    Go Giants!

    h.

  11. Blaming all of the issue on Boudin without recognizing that:
    1. The pandemic has halted a lot of business, and put the lower income bracket without cushion in a tougher situation.
    2. We live in a ever widened income inequality due to deregulation that allowed the wealthy to do as they please.
    3. The housing crisis have yet to see its end.
    Now think about what Boudin is capable of doing about those factors? He can’t change the income inequality, the housing crisis brewed by Wall street bankers.
    He can charge those responsible for causing immediate harm in SF, that’s it!
    As for changing the roots of the problems. It’s gonna take the whole country holding those paper shuffler accountable for the devastating effect they’ve enabled.

  12. None of my friends are wealthy and we are all liberal Democrats who strongly support the recall. We must recall the corrupt, incompetent, and, most of all, cruel anti-victim DA boudin. San Franciscans are no longer even reporting many crimes because we know boudin does not care about San Franciscans. Let’s be clear – any criminal who steals a bike, murders, litters, rapes, violates our sit-lie or sidewalk camping law, or breaks into a car MUST be in prison and not allowed to keep destroying our City. Boudin has to go.

    1. To Sarah the Liberal Democrat; You should just move over to the Republican side. You don’t know squat about San Francisco nor prison. Only a fake ‘liberal’ would want to put someone in jail for stealing a bike or camping on the sidewalk. You ‘liberals’ came to San Francisco from who knows where to suck to life out of our city. The problems started when tech people and investment jerks from New York came to SF to squeeze whatever money they could out of it. They displaced artists, low income housing and built the ugliest housing on the planet. The city isn’t even eco. There is 1 or 2 green housing buildings in all of San Francisco. So get a clue and get out if you don’t understand the city is for everyone. We have crime because rich people have decided they own San Francisco and dummies like you think prison is the answer to everything. You need some education to understand why there is crime. People aren’t born wanting to commit crimes, their environment sets it up for them to fail. Hunter’s Point is a failure and London Breed spends more time biking in Paris than cleaning up her mess. That is the problem.

  13. It’s really interesting to learn who is contributing to the recall campaign. It would also be interesting to hear why this particular campaign appeals to the big contributors sufficiently that they are willing to contribute huge amounts of $$ to take a local DA down.Thats what I want to know. An average of $50,000 per contribution ain’t chicken feed!
    All of us are fed up with the level of street crime, smashed car windows, psychotic people out of control on the street, but locking folks up has not solved these problems. It makes common sense to try to determine other ways to resolve these so called “petty crime” issues–which are never petty to those who are subjected to them, nor are they cost free. Are appropriate diversionary options available? How about adequate available mental health treatment facilities? And how about considering that these deeply complex problems were not created in a few years and cannot be resolved in a few months or a few years…we’ve grown them for too long for that kind of “fix” to work.
    Something else is clearly going on here. The recall proponents are too one-sided to accept as politics as usual. Let’s hear the truth about the recall campaign proponents.

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