Case Study: Campaign “Reform” and Unintended Consequences in San Francisco’s District 6

For those of you just joining us, there’s a rather contentious battle in San Francisco’s Supervisorial District 6, where incumbent Supervisor Daly is running for re-election. The campaign is already getting quite heated, as some people in Our Fair City are not fans of Mr. Daly and his effectiveness as a legislator getting laws passed based on the platform he clearly enuniciated as a candidate (with 83% of the vote) in 2000. Ultimately, it will be the voters who will decide if Mr. Daly should continue to serve in office.
The race also offers a case study in the Law of Unintended Consequences with regards to “political reform” that is peddled by incumbents and assorted hangers-on who try to “game” the system to get the results they like – and how such “gaming” ends up causing more problems for candidates and the voters who are being asked to decide who should represent them in office.
It was laughable to see the Bay Guardian’s complaint-atorial today, bemoaning the rise of independent expenditure committees which are being funded to oppose Mr. Daly’s re-election, citing in particular the fact he is limited by law to spending only $83,000 on his own race, while a host of independent committees (all of whom have the same name but are numbered 1-6 to maximize their effect) can spend what they like.
Why the comedy? Because it was the Bay Guardian that unequivocally supported the limits and laws that are now limiting Mr. Daly’s ability to respond to campaign attacks!
That’s the funny part. The not-so-funny part is when the Guardian asks the Board of Supervisors to immediately amend the law so that this “can’t happen.” Now it’s time to take a large Wait A Minute and Think pill, before more new laws (and more unintended consequences) result.
That’s because the folks who are opposing Mr. Daly aren’t really doing anything wrong per se. Super-nasty campaigns are never pleasant to watch, and to be sure, the folks who oppose Mr. Daly would seem to have a visceral hatred for the man, almost more than the leftiest lefty who hates Our President. That said, these folks took a look at the laws “as is” and have a smart attorney who found perfectly legal ways to operate within the system to do what it is they feel they need to do to get their message out.

True, it would be nice if someone that committed to their cause would make it clearer to the voters as to who they are or why they feel this particular way of doing things is the most constructive, but the “law” as written does not require it.
Now, the Bay Guardian may not like that, but the Guardian needs to take responsibility for the fact that it was their support, and the support of like-minded progressives, who made this all possible and helped create the situation that Mr. Daly’s campaign finds itself in. It is unfortunate that one side seems to have the upper hand in terms of resources, but thanks to the poorly written law, that’s what voters are stuck with.
For years most of the so-called “reform” laws were based primarily to help certain politicians in the past get elected (or try to get elected Mayor with no money), and the laws passed were based on perceived excesses seen in local races in the 1990s. Now that times have changed, as have the players, those laws are now showing their limits – and their unintended consequences.
There is a better way, of course. San Francisco could take a torch to the myriad of complex and contradictory laws, and start all over again. Instead of trying to “game” the system to help any one side or incumbent, it’s time to get some of the best and brightest to come up with a simple framework that benefits the only person these laws are supposed to benefit – you, the voter/citizen.
A truly honest system would be really simple, really easy to implement for both candidates and political groups, and most importantly, give you the information you need to make your own decisions, including:
-A reasonable campaign donation limit to political candidates and non-aligned “independent expenditure” committees, pegged to the rise in the cost of living so the limits don’t get eaten by inflation;
-Full and total disclosure online and at City Hall and branch libraries of all donations and expenditures within 24 hours of each so that citizens and others can see who’s doing what, when, and how;
-An easy to understand common sense disclosure of who and what is paying for each piece of campaign material the voter sees, with a total disclosure available online, and at City Hall or a branch library.
That’s it. No gaming the system for one side, no complex forms to fill out, no need to hire a lawyer, an accountant, a treasurer, and a priest to pray to God you’re not gonna get racked up on a technicality.
Sure, it may make some emotional folks on the left and right upset when Their Guy loses. Boo Hoo. It’s about time hardcore partisans on all sides realize that no one is owed or entitled to a win in a democracy and that gaming the system with hack laws does all of us a disservice. So long as the elections are fairly run, the winner is not any one side, but the people of San Francisco.

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