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.

The Politics of Black and Orange.

Graphic design in political communications is either Really Amazing, Generic & Dull, or Crapola. Really Amazing is so rare when one finds it, you have to document it otherwise no one believes you. Generic & Dull is SOP for the political business (and gets worse every year as professional designers are pushed aside for Nephew Gary who “knows computers”). As for Crapola, well…the less said the better.
Most signs, for example are in some sort of combo of red, white, and blue. A terrible combo (red and blue don’t work well side by side), and one that’s been done to death. So when I see a campaign that tries something that’s either Really Amazing, or at least uses contrasting colors so you can can see the damned sign in various situations, I take notice.
Bevan Dufty’s campaign e-literature and website have been featuring a new sign/logo that looks like a postcard from the Good Old Days. It’s very simple, easy to read, but also captures scenes from around San Francisco. Whether you support him or not, one has to admit that design catches the eye, and communicates something, and does so well.
Sup. Avalos’ campaign for mayor took a simpler approach. Using nothing but bold, sans serif type and the colors black and orange, it stands out because it’s easy to read, and when you get a bunch of them together…it kinda looks like a bunch of Giants fans at first. Either way, it’s easy to read, and those of us who are Giants fans have that knee-jerk reaction to anything black and orange that makes you want to take a second look.
He’s not the only one picking up on this idea. Last night at the Board of Supervisors, many people were testifying on various projects, pro and con. I noticed that members of the Laborers International Union (good hard working folks all) had a special shirt with a custom union logo…and their shirts were orange and black. Same reaction from me – the first thing I thought of, before reading the logo was , “how cool”, and even after I figured out who it was, I have to tip my designer hat to them for good communications via design.
This made me wonder if campaigns would be better served making their signs in the color of their local team (when feasible) instead of some eye-blinding combo that sucks? At the very least, choosing good colors that contrast well, along with good typography, ensures that their logo is represented well as a sign, a letterhead, a sticker, online, etc. Also, if someone on the staff suggests crowd-sourcing this stuff, fire them immediately and send them back to school. Seriously.
In all of these cases, the power of good design be it detailed (like Dufty’s logo) or simple (like Avalos’ and the union’s art) provides an extra punch in what is likely to be a difficult election season in 2011 and beyond.

Now It’s Official: “Sit/Lie” Hasn’t Changed Much in Upper Haight, According to the SFPD.

It seems that a report by the San Francisco Police Department analyzing the effects of the so-called “Sit/Lie” law indicate what those who read my blog have known all along – it’s not working. Despite the big cheers on election night by folks who sold this as a Holy Grail to make the City jerkass-free, it hasn’t worked as advertised. Nor did it get people to vote for certain candidates that year over others. In the end, whoever spent their money on this campaign got a big ol’ failwhale instead of something effective.
For fun, here’s my original article where I opposed “Sit/Lie” and its counterpart in 2010. (News flash politicos: putting ballot initiatives on the ballot to influence how people vote in Superivsor races never works, so please stop it.).
Over here, we find a post-election piece about how SFPD initially didn’t even enforce the beloved law, and here’s a more recent piece about how the law isn’t enforced anywhere else either, even as the “gutter punks” get pushed into adjoining neighborhoods.
I’m not humble enough to not say “I Told You So” once in a while. (If anything it makes me wonder why I can’t get paid more for being able to accurately predict these things as I’ve been known to do).
More to the point, I really wish we could get rid of these expensive ballot measure campaigns that generate a lot of intense emotions on all sides, but really don’t do anything at all. (throw in nonbinding “resolutions” and ballot measures too, for good measure). All political sides are guilty of this, and it needs to stop.
We could have saved ourselves a lot of nonsensical debate, and saved some trees too by not doing this, and instead having our well-paid elected officials and City Hall employees do the job they’re hired to do and keep the streets safe. That’s not too much to ask.
Until San Franciscans decide that they’d like laws enforced and for good people from all areas/income levels/etc. of the City to enjoy the many things our city has to offer, without being hurt by crime and criminal like behavior, we can pass all the silly laws we like and nothing will change.

News Flash: Park Merced, As Is, SUCKS. There, I Said It.

After much talk, hearings, discussions, screaming, and caterwauling, the Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval to a plan to transform Park Merced, an aging post-war, suburban style development into something from the 21st century.
Depiste expanding rental opportunities, offering to pay for Muni improvements, building facilities, reducing car dependence, and using earth-friendly building techniques to reduce carbon emissions, predictably, the “change nothing” crowd, in concert with the left-leaning supervisors, voted against it (but it passed anyway.)
Ironic. Despite all these things San Francisco allegedly values, 5 Supervisors voted “no” anyway. I guess being a “progressive” in San Francisco means that it’s better to talk big in campaign junk mail vs. doing something in the real world. Mindblowing.
However, let’s put aside the bizarro politics for a moment for now and talk about something we can all factually determine about Park Merced, as is. It sucks.
It really really sucks.
I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again: Park Merced has sucked for decades and will continue to do so unless it is substantially redeveloped/rebuilt. Anyone thinking this place is some sort of rent-contorlled Shangri-La is either an idiot or delusional. Pick one, I don’t care.
In my entire adult life I can’t remember a time when people didn’t find these units to be overpriced, easily damaged, and had problems with deposits, repairs, etc. Many people I grew up with went to San Francisco State in the mid 80s and would end up renting a place there since it was near the school, and back then it sucked too. In the ensuing decades, every so often I’d know someone who’d move there, only to move out within a year or so because of all sorts of problems. (You’d think that someone who’s worked at SFSU for 20 years would know this already, but I suppose not.)
While the current owners deserve some praise for getting the asbestos out and at least trying to make the place look nice, even now you can do a Google Search for “Park Merced Sucks” and you’ll find a long list of blogs, Facebook pages and more decrying the decaying apartment blocks and bungalows.
The point is simply this: If we leave Park Merced to continue to be what it is, it is going to fall apart soon anyway and all that housing will simply go off the market, rent control or not. Good luck getting anyone to pour more money to “save” these decaying, cheaply built blocks – no sane owner would bother to do so, laws and “rights” be damned because it’s a money pit. They’ll just let it rot and collect the rent.
In the end, this whole episode exposes once again how some people in San Francisco sure like to talk big on issues like “the environment” , “climate change” and “housing” , but when asked to do something beyond a meaningless “non binding resolution” or a symbolic law that doens’t really do anything, some people are content to simply walk away and vote to keep the status quo, no matter how screwed up it is. Worse, they cloak their do-nothingism in politically charged rhetoric about “tenant rights,” even though they supported a similar deal a few years ago downtown.
The big difference? Someone on “their side” authored the deal. Partisanship trumps practicality once again at City Hall.
Meanwhile, Park Merced STILL SUCKS.
PS: Comments that are polite and stick to the issues are welcome. Comments that are rude or stupid, however, are not.

A Minor Suggestion to the SF Film Commission: Copy This Idea from NYC. Now.

Hey! San Francisco Film Commission! Listen up!
I have a great idea for you to raise a few bucks, promote San Francisco as a filming location, and help local cartoonists and artists!
Thanks to the good people at Laughing Squid, I found this post at Gothamist featuring a poster of (almost) all of the movies filmed in Manhattan, in cartoon-like form.
I’m not one to endorse wholesale copy-catting, but something similar tothis, using some of our talented local artists and cartoonists could be a triple win: promoting the movie biz in SF, helping local artists, and selling them coulposterisawesome.jpgd make some quick petty cash for the office.
Hmm? Whaddya say? Email me if you think this might be kinda cool.
Image copyright Bernie Hou of Alien Loves Predator

The Lies of Sit/Lie Continue: Focus on the Inner Sunset

loser.jpgIt seems like you can’t walk down the street or read in the news another screw-up with the so-called “Civil Sidewalks” initiaive (aka “Sit/Lie”) without seeing just what a failure it’s been so far. Whether it’s the delayed enforcement of the law, or the fact it’s going to cost the City a lot of money to enforce, this law clearly isn’t the magic bullet proponents promised.
I find it laughable that anyone associated with this thought the fines from enforcement would offset the cost. I mean, you’re issuing these citations to “gutter punks” and schizo homeless people, who as we all know have bank accounts to pay said fines. Brilliance.
Even more genius thinking at the SFPD – first time offenders get a “warning.” That’s effective. Why don’t we just give these alleged public menaces a hug and a lollipop too? Throw in a free Muni pass so they can spread their joy to those of us on transit, even.
I’m being scarcastic. Even though I’ve thought this whole law was a joke from the beginning, let’s just assume that “sit/lie” is law now. Let’s also assume that it’s a Grand Idea, and our well paid SFPD is supposed to enforce said law (along with the many, many other laws we’ve passed to improve the “Quality of Life” in San Francisco). Case study for today: The Inner Sunset.
While the Inner Sunset is no Upper Haight, as the indigent population is pushed out of one area, inevitably they go somewhere else. In the photo above, I have a picture of a mentally ill guy who’s been sitting in front of Posh Bagel for some time now. From his ramblings and behavior, it’s clear he is in need of some mental health regimen. But in this photo he’s actually breaking several laws – the “Sit/Lie” law AND the “no smoking near a window” law the Supervisors pat themselves on the back about all the time. He’s occasionally acted up and driven business away from the bagel shop.
That’s beside the point, however – he’s breaking two laws and no one seems to mind. The SFPD could easily bust this guy for multiple charges and get him off the street. They just don’t. Why?
Another case study: I was taking some pictures of signs on 9th Avenue for a potential piece I wanted to do about street signs, and this greasy, aggro homeless guy started screaming at me claiming I took his photo (why would anyone take a picture of a greasy piece of shit like him is beyond me) and he threatened me mumbling something about a “knife” and claimed the “FBI” would be calling me to protect his tinfoil hatted ass*.
Why didn’t I call the police?
Simple. By the time they showed up (if they did), he’d have run off to his warren in the park or wherever aggressive dirtbags hang out. Even if he did stick around, they wouldn’t do anything, and the greasy piece of shit would get away with it, and likely stab me some night when I’m returning home from the Muni. I’d have been better off shooting him or something just so I can go get a burger without being hassled, but then I’d be the “bad guy.” Whatever. So much for “Sit/Lie.”
It gets better. On Monday, there was a bomb scare on Irving Street because of an unattended package, shutting down the N-Judah and causing major disruptions for everyone. Turns out it was an empty suitcase. Who wants to bet it belonged to one of the many homeless people who use the entrances to stores on Irving as hotel rooms, right next to the “No Trespassing” request for enforcement notice? Again, it’s not like the police don’t know this is happening, and couldn’t do something about it. In this case we went from clearing out people who are trespassing to shutting down a neighborhood because of a potential bomb threat.
Now compare this to the response by SFPD to an informal “Park(ing) Day” on a Sunday a few weeks back. In the past, these impromptu affairs, whereby people take over a parking spot for a few hours to enjoy the public space have never been challenged by the police, even when they’re not part of the official day that happens once a year.
So what happens when some peaceful community folks got together to hang out? There was the SFPD, breaking it up, claiming there was an “anonymous” complaint. (Sure there was). So there you have it – people doing something to enhance the neighborhood get chased out, while the bums get their way and get to scream and yell. See why the “Sit/Lie” selective enforcement is bullshit?
It all comes down to this: San Francisco has been passing these laws for years. The campaign is always heated, people either think it’s the silver bullet to clean up SF or Satan’s decree, the stupid law passes, and then it NEVER GETS ENFORCED so nothing really changes.
Then again, most of these laws were never about doing anything – they were about trying to influence election results by somehow enlisting support for some “law,” it will influence who gets elected at City Hall. Even though this never works, it’s a staple of SF politics and it’s here to stay.
Meanwhile if you’re just a regular person who wants to enjoy public space that one pays for via the many taxes the City levies, you’re being pushed out. In a few years, when Parks and Rec is done privatizing the parks and the only people out there are either homeless poor or out of town rich, you’ll be the one paying the penalties in the end.
UPDATE: Oh, it gets better. On my way home I passed by the bank and guess what I saw? A homeless person camped out next to the ATM. We’re aware, of course, that “aggressive panhandling near ATMs” was made a crime under Newsom (or Brown, I think it was Brown but I can’t remember right now). Either way the moral of the story is this: even if you agree with this crap that’s put on the ballot, you might as well vote no since it’s not like it’ll ever be enforced. Sure you get that election FU to the liberals, but in the end NOTHING CHANGES. So cool it, willya?

Oh The Irony: SFGate Writer Decries Crazy SFGate Commenters, The Only Reason SFGate Has Traffic

angry_mob_300px.jpgThese days, anytime you read something in the news, you can’t just accept it. You have to play the “Is this for real, or is this The Onion?” game, because often times, the truth is crazier than anything people could make up.
So when I read a headline in Google Reader that Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius was annoyed at “gutless trolls” hassling the subject of one of his columns, I assumed that this was some sort of a joke. We all know that the comment sections are a foul mouthed, angry, ill-informed lot. However, this gang of online anony-thugs are also the only reason the site gets the level of traffic that it currently generates.
Now, Mr. Nevius was right on the money regarding these creeps who hide behind anonymity and hurl insults and epithets at the Gate, and then move on to hate mail to the subjects of his columns. The fact such people are such chickenshits they can’t sign their name says a lot. He’s also not the first to suggest the Gate’s commenters are a pack of lunatics.
That said, without these crazies, the Gate would not have nearly the traffic it has now. So, ironically, Mr. Nevius and the Chronicle are able to be online due to the actions of these nuts. Truly, an “is it real or is it the Onion?” moment.
PS: Here’s another thing I’ve observed…there are some people out there who apparently cannot stand the idea that every other human being on the planet does not agree with them lock-step, and are often the most ferocious commenters, spending their day commenting over and over, attacking people etc. I have yet to see any writer, upon reading said comments, say “Oh my God, I was wrong, I shall change my opinions 100% immediately to comply with some bitter retiree in Arizona who disagreed with me! Oh the shame of my crazy opinions!”
They do the same with other commenters. I’ve been online far longer than I care to admit, and I have yet to see under any circumstances “commenting” changing minds or having much of an impact. The fact that some people have so much time during business hours to attack others online makes me wonder what kind of a job they have (if any) that allows them so much time to invest in something that’s interesting, but doesn’t impact the world at large.

The “Pollies” Day One: Not Much to Report, But the Miller Lite Was Free

I spent most of today traveling, getting up at 4:30 am (!) to get to SFO by 5am to get to a 7am Virgin America flight from SFO to Dulles. Now, I dislike air travel, mostly because it’s like taking Muni without the benefit of jumping off when the sh*t gets bad. However, Virgin America (based in Burlingame! Yay!) has convinced me that there’s an alternate universe crossover that says it ain’t necessarily so.
Not only did we get there sooner than expected, I had a whole row to myself. I paid for the stupid wifi and was online via iPhone to my Twittervercse. Also, got some sleep playing the “Inception” soundtrack. (Jack Donaghy/30 Rock reference). Overall, I was astonished at how well I was treated, from start to finish. Special shout out to the VA employees who were polite, happy and energetic at FIVE AM IN THE MORNING.
Upon leaving Dulles Airport (the one the SFMTA’s own Nat Ford wants to run, along with National Airport, depsite, um, not being qualified to run airports), we took a cab into town. Not a lot to report, but it was at least fast. Also: wow, Northern Virginia, you sure built the HELL out of yourselves!
Finally we were in Georgetown, the haven of my short time here in 1994. Everything was vaguely familiar and yet not. Upon crossing the bridge to the Fairmont, there was a ton of new (as in “I didn’t see these when I lived here when it was a slum”) apartments, hotels and so on. Impressive, but also making me wonder if Phil Gramm had a point about “doing the Lord’s work in the Devil’s city.” (But also not knowing he MIGHT have been on the side of the Devil…but I digress).
The reception for the AAPC tonight was fun, I got to see many old friends and make a few new ones. I would have loved to have partied like it was 1994, but after being up since 4:15 am PST (see what I did there?) I was wiped and I have a lot of work to do tomorrow. So instead of living it up with about 1000000 DC interns that litter this place or the 2011 cast of “The West Wing,” I went back to our hotel, relaxed and had a couple of real beers.
The point? Not a lot. Aside from the fact that this AAPC conference is gonna be cheap, easy, and fast. That’s not a value judgment at all it’s more of a reality. And, it’ll be interesting to discern what the politico pros thing about 2012 re: Obama, the GOP, and whatnot.

I’m Going to the AAPC “Pollie” Awards! Follow me On The Twitter!

spyguy.jpgDuring my day job, I work for, a startup that does ad buys online for political candidates, campaigns and organizations. This year we’re up for a “Pollie”, which some call the political consulting equivalent of the Oscars, but I think might be more the equivalent of the Emmys.
Or the Tonys.
Or the Golden Globes.
Anyway, you get the idea.
Two years ago we won several for our products and our work helping the 2008 Measure A campaign out, as well as for the Save JROTC campaign (both won!). This was all in the early days of just three years ago in the world of online political ads.
We’re up for one this year too. But in between work duties, I shall tweet at @gregdewar when I can if anything crazy happens.
If you saw any of the Daily Show’s coverage in 2008 (which was hilarious by the way) you know what I mean. If you missed it, slide on over to the Comedy Central site to see Part I and Part II (which was a true gem) and have fun. This year is an off year so there’s not as much going on, but like I say, if I see or hear anything tweet-worthy, I’ll be sure to let you know.