Author Archives: gdewar

Which of San Francisco’s Artwork for Campaign 2011 Window Signs Do You Like Best

It’s campaign silly season again, and we’re about to see a massive deforestation effort to provide endless piles of junk mail, doorhangers, window signs and the like all over Our Fair City. Having worked in this business for some time, one thing I find interesting is the amazing graphic design (or total lack thereof) in these things.
In the past, I’ve scanned in mail pieces and done some critiquing (which you can find to your left in the Categories section). I may do some of that this year too. Today, however I’m asking readers – which of the many candidates’ window signs do you find look the best, design-wise, regardless of whether you support them or not?
I have some thoughts, and I’ve mentioned a little before about those awful Run Ed Run design abortions (complete with ironic captions), and about the politics of black and orange. However, add your thoughts in the comments below. Remember, this is all about design only – not about the candidates themselves (that’s another column).

Just How Much Is Anyone Making Off Mayoral Candidates in SF?

To nobody’s surprise, it seems Temporary Mayor Ed Lee, backed by powerful financial interests and a shadow campaign that has yet to see sunlight, is running for mayor. And again, as the unofficial press spokesperson, the Chronicle once again provides cover for their candidate.
Today we read about how St. Ed is not taking public money for his campaign, instead relying on the aforementioned shadow campaign, and whatever private money he chooses to take. This contrasts with others who participated in the public matching funds/spending limit program provided by the City of SF. The Chronicle, naturally, uses this to somehow distinguish St. Ed from his opponents. It’s a nice hit for Ed, but it’s just the latest in a line of articles that the Chronicle has written that basically promote Ed. That’s fine, but if I wanted to read a dying medium’s political endorsements sold as news, I’d read the Guardian (which I don’t).
However, putting that aside, the article also starts to rattle off how much consultants have made off the other candidates, again implying that they were all “subsidized” with tax dollars. There are several problems with the reporting on this piece of news.
First, the matching funds are only awarded if a candidate has raised money from a lot of private donors, who can ONLY live in San Francisco, and they have to have significant disclosure as to who donated. There is also a cap on how much campaigns can get from the city, and the majority of their funding is private, despite the Chronicle’s insinuations. Moreover, there is more disclosure than there ever was for the shady “Run Ed Run” campaign which denies helping the Mayor even though it was helping the mayor.
Second, the amounts. I’ve yet to meet a reporter that understands how the political consulting business works, especially when it comes to the actual business of running such an operation. So when I read about “fees” for consultants in the Chronicle, my first question is how this amount is computed.
Naturally, the Chronicle wants to provide an image of these “consultants” raking in the big bucks on the poor taxpayer’s dime, and so on. What the Chronicle doesn’t seem to understand is that just because a campaign handed over a big bundle of cash, the consultant doesn’t necessarily keep all the money, depending on the arrangement.
For example, I used to work for A Big National Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named a few years ago. Our company was working on a Big Campaign, and if you looked at the disclosure forms, you’d think we were raking in the big bucks. However, what the disclosure statements didn’t point out was how much of that was going right out the door to pay for printing, letterhead, campaign staffers we administered payroll for and other products the campaign elected to purchase. Out of about $180,000 or so in “moneys” we got, we kept maybe $5000-$7500 that could be considered a fee.
Another example: some campaign consultants don’t take more than a modest retainer at the start, and then charge no consulting fees at all, and mark up things like TV ads, direct mail (printing/production, not postage!) and other items at the standard industry rate of 15% to cover their overhead costs (taxes and staff and a modest profit). So looking at the gross amount isn’t very realistic.
There’s also another thing about San Francisco campaigns that no one in the press corps seems to understand – working in SF politics is no way to make a living in the consulting business. Even with a well funded campaign, with campaign donation limits, as well as the “consultant tax”** and other unique requirements for campaigns in San Francisco, you won’t be netting a large landslide of cash. Supervisor races make very little for anyone involved as well.
That’s not to say they pay so little no one will work on them, but with all the limitations, being a consultant for city candidates isn’t a great way to make a living. Consultants are better off working for either a labor union(s) or other organizations, or working in jurisdictions Not In San Francisco. When I was working in the business, most of my work was out of state. Not only did it pay me as a freelancer fairly well, it was also a lot easier.
I’d expect the gaggle of New Yorkers working for the various chain-owned online entities to get this wrong, but I’d expect more from the supposedly Old School Journalistic Entity located here for over 100 years. I guess when you keep on firing the people who make the product you’re supposedly selling, mistakes happen.
**The “consultant tax” I refer to is a profoundly bone-headed attempt by the Board of Supervisors, ages ago, who hated a certain consultant, and decided to clobber him a little with this law. The intent was to make consultants pay a special “consultant tax” and disclose for whom they were working for. This is stupid for several reasons. First, the “tax” they impose also applies to campaign day to day workers. Ironically the big companies and out of town companies can pay this no problem, but the poorly paid, day to day overworked staffer ends up paying proportionally more than the Big Companies.
Second, the disclosure as to whom people are working for is already done in the campaign finance reporting that is required for every candidate. So once again a typical SF Progressive FAIL: More rules that hurt the lowest paid people, and duplicate efforts elsewhere.

Post Filing Debate Set for August 16th, Courtesy of the Alliance for Jobs and Comcast!

Debates are a tricky proposition when you have more than 2 candidates running for office. Endless side debates begin about Who Gets To Participate and Who Doesn’t, and so on. This has been especially difficult since we still may have more candidates running for Mayor here in San Francisco after the official filing period ends.
That’s why the debate on August 16th at 7:30pm, co-sponsored by the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth, and Comcast, is worth checking out. This will likely be the first major broadcast of a debate, post-filing, and given the sponsors, should be a quality event. If you’re not familiar with the Alliance, it’s a coalition of business, labor and community groups dedicated to finding long-term prosperity for San Francisco that benefits everyone, not just the connected. Comcast, you know of course, but the fact Comcast is putting time and effort to produce this event deserves a high five.
Best of all, you, the voter can participate. Go to the Facebook Page for the debate, and once you “Like” the page, you can post suggested questions for the candidates for all to see. This is your chance to ask the tough questions and see what happens. Check it out!

Who Paid For This Anti-Ed Lee Ad On Facebook? No Assuming, Please! UPDATED

So this morning while on Facebook (something I use rarely), I noticed an anti-Ed Lee ad appearing on the side of the page. Curious as to what it was all about, I clicked on it, assuming I’d be taken to either a Facebook Fan Page, or linked to a campaign website that would tell me who was putting this ad on Facebook, and what they were all about. Instead, it just linked me to the Mayor’s official website and its “Contact Ed Lee” online email page.
Facebook keeps pushing back on disclosure for political ads, but here’s an example of how their “links are disclosure” defense doesn’t hold up. I, the voter, am left to make assumptions instead of having facts. When I posed the question to Twitter, naturally it started endless speculation that Leland Yee’s campaign, or perhaps his consultant, Jim Stearns, posted the ad.
Personally, I don’t think that’s very fair to Yee or Stearns, since it’s not a fact, it’s an assumption. If they didn’t do it, they’re getting tarred with something they had nothing to do with. If they did buy the ads, then they should just say so somewhere. However, given the fact that Yee and Stearns have been aggressive in attacking the less-than-transparent doings of the “Run Ed Run” operation, I don’t imagine they’d be dumb enough to pull a shady move of their own that would be as un-transparent as the “Run Ed Run” movement.
I’ll be waiting to see what, if any, information is later found. Given how lame the Ethics and Elections office is in San Francsico, and how SF politics tend to be some of the most corrupt, I doubt we’ll ever know. It’s kinda like that anti-Leno site that stole my pictures off and never paid me for my stolen image.
UPDATE: In a tweet to myself and another Twitter user, Mr. Stearns confirmed that neither his firm, nor the Yee campaign purchased the Facebook ad.

Is San Francisco Setting a New Record for the Number of Electeds Running For Office?

So there I was, reading yet another “What if Temporary Mayor Lee Runs For Office” blather on some news site or whatever, and it got me to thinking – just how many people are running for office, while (supposedly) serving the public?
Let’s take a look:
Current Mayor – Running? Not Running? (this tease is getting very tiresome, btw)
City Attorney – Running for Mayor
Assessor – Running for Mayor
President, Board of Supervisors – Running for Mayor
Supervisor Avalos – Running for Mayor
Supervisor Mirkirimi – Running for Sheriff
District Attorney – Running for DA (Appointed in 2011)
State Senator – Running for Mayor
To be honest, with so many people in office running for another in an “off year,” if Mr. Lee decides to have a “do over” on his promise to be a caretaker, look for City Hall to basically shut down for the rest of the year.
There’ll be so many people posturing and looking for short term gimmicks so they can slap some crap on a piece of dead tree mail and spend special interest cash to pay for it, you can’t expect much to happen.

Nostalgia for a Death Match Young Democrats Meeting from Long Ago…

If you’re not already reading Beth Spotswood’s column at the Chronicle, or at the Appeal, or now at the Huffington Post (with Melissa Griffin on video!), you’re missing out on some great observations about San Francisco. Her column today, on the San Francisco Young Democrats meeting was rather entertaining, and reminded me of an incident years ago in Seattle.
Young Democrats (known popularly as YDs) can have some intense meetings, and not about who to endorse for US Senate or something, but on internal matters. It’s easy to belittle, but it’s really no different than a condo association, a bowling club or whatever, because in the end, if you’re a devoted member of any group,and you want to be a leader in said group, you’re going to take this seriously. So I have no doubt that Beth’s account is rather accurate in its description of the events. More importantly it wasn’t all about the internal workings of the YDs – it’s also about the race for Mayor.
That’s because the YDs are one of many endorsements a politican can put on his or her junk mail. If the group’s leadership favors one candidate over the others, it can make a difference. In this case, it would seem that a pro-Yee slate seems to have won, so if you hear about a YDs endorsement later on, well you can figure that one out.
This reminded me of one of the all time death match meetings I’d ever attended in my life – the Washington State Young Democrats in 1996. The YDs up there were smart – they timed their annual election to an early endorsement for the Governor’s race, which featured four major candidates. Playing off the “first endorsement of the year” meme, campaigns went into a panic and started having their supporters sign up to buy a membership by the deadline to be eligible to vote. Needless to say this meant the YDs had one heck of a party fund afterwards.
However, on the day of voting for their officers and the endorsement, all Hell broke loose. First off was the fight for the YD offices, which had an unforseen wrinkle – so many people had joined in the months previous who weren’t acquainted with the candidates, the votes started to shift back and forth and the speechifying and whatnot was out of control. In the end, the “new” members began voting for people based on which school they went to (UW vs WSU, and believe me, that is a Big Fucking Deal in Washington State) and to the shock of the “regulars” they suddenly had people in office they hadn’t expected to win. That thing Beth said about people losing limbs in these fights almost came true that day.
The biggest bloodbath was the run up to the endorsement. Four major Democratic candidates (a former congressman – who is likely to become Governor in 2012 ironically after being Congressman from Elsewhere- a state senator,a King County Executive, and a Mayor of Seattle) had their minions out there scrounging for votes. I’d shown up mostly to hang out with my friends and go to the after parties, but since I was a member, suddenly people were barking at me about who to vote for. I remember one partisan literally screaming at me, face red, veins pulsating merely because I cracked a joke or two about how silly the whole thing was.
I can’t remember who won the endorsement, and in the end it really didn’t matter, but the fact the press bought into this as much as it did made me realize how easily they are to manipulate. I was more impressed at how the YDs figured out a way to make themselves relevant, and make a few bucks, just like those silly straw polls in Iowa before the caucuses.
I put most of this out of my mind until I read “Zioncheck for President,” an account of my friend Grant’s run for Seattle City Council in 2001 and Beth’s piece, because I always tended to regard party functions of any sort (Democrat, Republican, Whatever) as things to be aware of but not invest too much time or energy into, because in the end, once you leave the multi-purpose room these things are held in, no one really cares.
Because, really, when did you, the average voter, give a damn about the internal workings of political parties who are about as concerned about you as, say, Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner?

Just How DO Paid Signature Gatherers Get Paid?

Today’s Chronicle had a report that signature gatherers for Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s pension reform measure were “caught on camera” saying things to voters that were “misleading.” After checking out, all I can say is that if anyone thinks they found a smoking gun, they may not be aware of a) how words can be twisted and b) how paid signature gathering works.
First, the words: many canvassers in the video were saying things like “if you want to prevent night time parking meters sign this petition.” It is very correct that the petition says nothing about it, but at the same time, it would be almost impossible to prosecute. That’s because if city pensions begin to dominate city spending, why yes, one could reasonably infer that “nighttime parking meters (WTF?) could in fact be a response to said financial crisis.
So could a tax on unicorn horns. You see where this is going.
Also, those that point the finger should be darn sure none of their folks pulled any similar weasel word stunts too – these things can backfire spectacularly if you’re not on solid ground.
I avoid signing petitions at all costs, unless it is for something that I’ve heard of that is sponsored by people I trust. I think people in San Francisco would be doing themselves a favor by not signing these things based on some emotional chatter they get from some fool collecting signatures. It sucks, because many good things are put on the ballot this way, but I think we need to thin the herd on ballot measures for a while.
Second, the methods. When the press talks about paid signature gatherers, they’ll usually do their research and find out how much they’re paying per signature. In California it can be as high as $6 a signature. The question is – did the hippie in front of Safeway who asked you to sign a petition get $6 for your signature? Probably not.
Campaigns usually hire a professional firm to gather signatures for a ballot measure (local or state). That company will then hire contract workers who then go out and get the signatures. However, these sub-contractors don’t simply go out with a stack of clipboards and start earning $6 per signature. Instead, they go out and hire another series of sub-contractors, and pay them a percentage of the $6. In some cases those sub contractors might even hire another level of folks, but that is rare.
Let’s make it simpler: Campaign Signature Company “A” hires contractor “Elvis” to get signatures at $6 each. “Elvis” then hires a crew of 10 people to get signatures, but pays them only $3 each. This means that 10 people are being managed by “Elvis” bringing in signatures, who is getting $3 each and isn’t actually out there doing anything – he is instead managing a crew of 10. Any one of those could take a dollar less and sub out the work themselves too, if they wanted. In the end, “Elvis” is going to make more money farming out the work to 10 people, each armed with 4 clipboards a piece, than he ever would alone getting the full $6.
Most of the people who do this are pros who follow the action wherever it goes, similar to those who once followed the Grateful Dead back in the day. They may or may not be from the jurisdiction and in almost all cases are simply trying to play a numbers game, racking up as many signatures as they can. Needless to say, these aren’t people who know or care much about what the petition is for, so it’s easy to see where the incentive is to make up stuff just to get people’s signatures.
A bill to regulate the signature mills made its way through the state Senate. Predictably it was all on party-line votes – Democrats wanted it regulated to prevent fraud, while Republicans want to ensure that money buys access to the ballot.
One thing you can do right away is if approached to sign something is to ask if they are paid or not. Under the law, they have to tell you and it must be printed on the petition.
Either way, take the time to read the fine print before you sign. Just because something is called “The Kittens Puppies and Rainbows Initiative to Save The Children” doesn’t mean it’s so.

My Latest Bazillion Dollar Idea That Could Save Hollywood: A Cable Network Devoted to Failed Pilots.

As most of you know I’m taking some time away from the Internet due to circumstances beyond my control. It’s been a bit much to take, and today I had to get away from all things Death related, and walked to the Richmond, did some shopping, and basically got away from things. It was good.
ANYWAY, whilst chatting with pals via The Twitter, an idea, not necessarily a new one, hit me. I’d been doing some searching on YouTube and elsewhere about failed TV pilots over the years, or ones that are significantly different from what aired. A few years ago, I found online not only a failed pilot (starring Michelle Forbes!) for the TV version of “Global Frequency,” I also found the lost pilot for the USA version of “Life on Mars,” which orginally was set in Los Angeles and starred, among other people, Colm Meany. In the case of “Global Frequency,” this was a producer-sanctioned release, as he was annoyed the then-WB network for not picking it up. For the record, with a little work it could have been a cool show. On a crappy network.
The old TRIO network enjoyed some success with its “Brilliant But Canceled” series back in the day, and when those of us who are pop culture historians lost it, it was a sad day. However, I’m not the only one who’s thought of this – at one point it was determined that the iTunes store could be a great way for networks to recover the cost of pilots by selling them and perhaps offering a “second chance” if something sold well. (citation later).
Imagine a whole network full of these things, each with intros by TV and film critics, and with explanations as to how the pilot system works (which by the way was the subject of a documentary I remember watching on TRIO, along with a documentary about LA’s old Z Channel, but I can’t remember the name of either), and have commentary by folks like Tim Goodman and others, and I think you’d have a winner people would watch on cable, or Netflix, or whatever.
If anyone does this, can you just send the check payable to me, and make sure it’s delivered safely? I promise to spend it wisely

How Electoral Gimmicks Like “Campaign Finance Reform” Gaming the System Can Backfire!

In the declining days of Our Republic, political parties and rabid ideologues of all persuasions are in agreement on one thing – coming up with ways to rig the electoral system to benefit Their Side, and keep The Other Side from winning. Cloaked in goody-two-shoes terms like “reform,” it is in fact Third World-like in the attempts to suppress votes or ensure Certain People win.
There’s just one problem with all of these half-baked efforts – rarely do they work as advertised, and the unintended consequences are significant. Some make one laugh, most make one wonder if burning the electoral code and doing a reboot with the concept of “majority rule through free and fair elections” as the guiding principle for a change.
Today’s case study: the so-called “Clean Elections” law that the Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional. Arizona isn’t the only state with such a law – this was a scheme pushed on various states (including California) by various non-profity, think thank-like groups that know what’s best. If you’re not familiar with the scheme, here’s a very simplified explanation:
Candidates have the option to run as a “clean money” candidate. This means they raise money with limits on how much a donor can give, there’s usually other conditions, and the candidate gets money from the state in the form of matching funds. Most importantly, they agree not to spend more than a certain amount. The caveat, however, is that if any other candidate, even one not participating (since you can’t mandate participation in these things), blows the cap, the state starts matching the funds the (usually rich) candidate is pouring into their campaign.
Now, the people that have been pushing this (now unconstitutional) scheme were generally of the liberal variety. The irony in Arizona? The super-right wing, anti-government, anti welfare types were elected largely because of this law. Yes, you read that right – people who want limited government and don’t like welfare or subsidies could only get elected in Arizona due to a government handout.
The Defenders of Small Government scrambling to figure out how to get their consultants paid without government cheese. Oh, the irony. (By the way, people in the political ad game like these laws because if you follow the rules, you know you won’t be stuck with a warehouse full of mail that’s unpaid).
Locally, the impact of the ruling is a bit more muted. San Francisco’s public finance law (one of many gimmicks to help a Matt Gonzalez run for Mayor in 2003 that never happened) doesn’t give out tax cash to candidates unless they abide by rules and raise private money first. They have to agree to a cap, but they don’t get that cash payout if someone else busts it.
Then again, San Francisco rarely enforces campaign laws on real lawbreakers. They’ll rack up some underfunded schmo who can’t afford a lawyer and has to figure out San Francisco’s crazy-ass laws on their own (they make the IRS look like paragons of simplicity) and nail them for fines. Meanwhile, you can run illegal fake campaigns for non-candidates for Mayor and take buckets of cash to the bank, free of worry.
Ah, but thats yet ANOTHER story….

Worst. Political Sign. Ever. AKA Who Gets Paid for This Sh*t?

IMG_3898.JPGSo there I was enjoying my Sunday afternoon, running some errands around the Inner Funset, and upon entering my favorite place for kimchi, saw this…this thing amongst the myriad of posters and flyers in the store. At first I assumed this was some sort of prank, but upon inspection found out this is in fact apparently a legit sign for this so-called “grass roots” effot to get Temporary Mayor Ed Lee to run for a full term.
Putting aside the political insider basebal/endless prattle by pundits, as well as the most recent controversies involved in this alleged grassroots effort, let’s just focus on one thing: design. On ANY level, this sign sucks. Big time.
I don’t like to judge harshly but I have to say, if this is indeed a funded effort that seriously wants to have Temporary Mayor Lee to run, and attract mainstream support, this sign is an “epic fail” on many levels. It does not cost “lots of money” to hire a designer to make something that looks credible. Hell, if the “Run Ed Run” folks had called me, I could easily have rallied several of some of the best designers in the business, who could have hashed this out easily, and come up with something better – blindfolded.
Instead, we have this bullshit cutesy cartoony thing that doesn’t inspire the viewer to think “Hmm, perhaps this Temporary Mayor should be Mayor for a while.” No, it goes for that cutesy bullshit that started in January about “ohh tee hee hee Ed Lee’s mustasche, ooh tee hee he he’s not slick Newsom, blah blah bullshit bullshit bullshit.” Plus, if you’re going to put the man’s face on a sign, find a picture of him doing something badass like giving a speech – don’t make a cartoony face that is easily transformed into the pigs in Angry Birds.
I find it fascinating that while I’m struggling to pay the bills, people with absolutely no talent somehow get these paid gigs. I mean, I don’t even do design myself (I hire professionals) but I could sketch out something better than this and I can’t even draw. “Mason Powell,” who designed the famous N Is Near shirts as well as a myriad of amazing beer bottle labels (and isn’t even a pro) could do better than this.
If ever I needed proof Ed Lee isn’t running, I suppose this might be it. The man is an honorable civil servant. Apparently his backers didn’t figure that part out, and went the cutesy cartoony way. At a time when the city is circling the drain, fiscsally and socially, the last thing I need is more cutesy bullshit – we had enough of that under Newsom.