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SF considers changes to public campaign financing

December 12, 2011 10:40:24 PM PST
In the recent San Francisco's mayoral race, candidates -- for the first time -- were able to tap into taxpayer money to help fund their campaigns. Now, the city's ethics commission looks at reforms to the law, including one that might eliminate so-called "zombie" candidates.

More than $4.5 million in taxpayer money went to nine of the 11 leading candidates in this year's mayoral race. Only Ed Lee and Jeff Adachi turned it down. Candidates were able to begin collecting the cash once they received $25,000 from at least 250 contributors.

Here's an example of the bang for the buck: Carphil Ting received $305,364 in public money, and captured just 1,016 first place votes or $300.55 per vote. David Chiu collected $570,300 and got 17,921 first place votes, or $31.82 per top vote. John Avalos received $450,639 in public financing and got 37,445 first place votes or $12.03 per vote.

"Public finance program itself works very well. It does what its intended to do," said John St. Croix.

Croix heads up the city's Ethics Commission which is now considering changes to the public finance system.

Under the current law, any candidate who wanted to drop out of the race would have to pay back all the public financing, so some may have stayed in reluctantly, becoming so-called "zombie" candidates.

Political consultant Alex Clemens believes several longshot candidates fit that bill.

"In this last race, we had several candidates who, when they were being truthful with themselves, knew a month before Election Day, they had no hope of winning," said Clemens.

On Monday, the Ethics Commission considered modifications.

"We're thinking that if we wait until we start dispensing funds until later in the year early, enough that candidates can be viable, but not so early they might waste public dollars," said St. Croix.

Supervisor and former mayoral candidate Chiu supports some change.

"I do think there are some appropriate tweaks we can make to the system, but that it's important to mend it, not end it," said Chiu.


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