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The money game: Donors pour funds into San Francisco’s crucial march election

San Francisco, California – The city’s March election is nearly here. We’re really keeping track of that, especially with all the money that’s been flowing into what’s seen as a very important election time for San Francisco in a long time.

More than $1 million spent so far

Since this month started, donors gave a lot more than $1 million to several local campaigns, making their final efforts to convince voters. This big amount of money doesn’t even include some donations that haven’t been reported yet for this month.

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There are two main fights to watch on March 5. The first is about seven measures that people are voting on, which could really change how things are done with police and social services.

The other big fight is for the Democratic County Central Committee, or DCCC. There are 24 spots available, and the battle is between progressives and moderates for control. This committee is important because it leads the local Democratic Party and decides which candidates to support in the big races coming up in November, like for mayor, the Board of Supervisors, and other roles.

People will also have their say on a senate race and Prop. 1, a state measure to get money for mental health treatment, and whether to remove two Superior Court judges.

Cash flowing to Propositions B and F

Proposition B is a hot topic right now because it proposes setting and funding a certain number of police officers, but only if a new tax is introduced in the future. This idea has attracted a lot of opposition, especially from those with deep pockets. In just this month, over $618,400 has been donated to a group opposing the measure, known as the “Stop the Cop Tax” committee.

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The idea for Prop. B came from Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who suggested increasing the police force by about 100 officers each year, partly by offering large bonuses for signing up. However, doubts arose when it was calculated that this plan could cost the city up to $300 million over five years.

An amendment was later added by Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, suggesting that the increase in police staff should depend on a future tax change approved by voters. Dorsey did not agree with this change, saying Safaí had sabotaged the measure, and withdrew his support.

In November, the Board of Supervisors narrowly passed the measure with a 6-5 vote. It has support from the board’s president, Aaron Peskin, and unions, who argue that funding for police could also help increase staff for other emergency services like firefighters and paramedics.

The campaign against Prop. B has seen significant donations, including $618,400 from Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy, $50,000 from tech executive Chris Larsen, and $10,000 from the city’s police union. Since February 1, the San Francisco Labor Council has contributed a modest $2,500 in favor of Prop. B.

The three propositions drawing the most money are Prop. B with $1.77 million, Prop. E with $1.67 million, and Prop. A with $648,554.

Prop. F is also seeing a lot of financial activity. It proposes screening welfare recipients for illegal drug use and requiring treatment for those who test positive, a response to the city’s overdose crisis by Mayor London Breed. A recent poll shows 61% of voters favor Prop. F.

This month, $288,400 has been directed toward supporting Prop. F, with significant contributions from businessman Kevin Xu and Diane “Dede” Wilsey. The opposition, including the Tenants and Owners Development Corporation (TODCO) and SEIU Local 1021’s PAC, has donated $25,000 since the beginning of the month.

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“There is certainly a move by some toward more moderate, if not conservative, policies,” said Larry Gerston, San Jose State University political science professor emeritus. “And it really began with the recall of [former District Attorney Chesa] Boudin. That is when it started. And I think it continues in various ways, in particular with some of these ballot issues.”

Will moderates take over the DCCC?

The battle for control of the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), or “D-trip” as it’s affectionately known by political enthusiasts, is heating up. This contest involves 14 seats on the city’s east side (Assembly District 17) and 10 seats on the west (Assembly District 19).

Currently, progressives make up about three-quarters of the committee, but moderates are looking to gain ground. The stakes are high because the DCCC decides which local candidates get the San Francisco Democratic Party’s backing, influencing hundreds of thousands of registered Democrats. Besides endorsing candidates, the committee also focuses on policy resolutions and voter registration efforts.

In both assembly districts, the top fundraisers are moderates: Bilal Mahmood, Michael Lai, and Dorsey on the east side, with Marjan Philhour, Supervisor Catherine Stefani, and Lanier Coles on the west. They’re all part of the moderate-leaning Democrats for Change slate.

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Ben Kaplan, who founded the moderate political group WE San Francisco, points out that DCCC candidates running for other positions, like Mahmood and Philhour who are eyeing spots on the Board of Supervisors, have a fundraising advantage. Both have collected over $200,000 for their DCCC campaigns, significantly more than most of their peers.

Kaplan believes that winning often comes down to name recognition, especially when voters are choosing among many candidates at once.

This month, Mahmood, challenging progressive Supervisor Dean Preston for the supervisor role, received $5,000 from venture capitalist Steven Merrill. Lai got $5,000 each from tech leaders Josh Albrecht and Jared Friedman of Y Combinator. Garry Tan, another tech figure, donated $5,000 to Lily Ho, a moderate candidate from the east side.

Despite the financial dominance of moderates, progressives have received substantial support too. Kristin Hardy, a medical records clerk, received a notable $40,000 from SEIU’s Local 1021 PAC, and Patrick Bell, a plumber with San Francisco’s Water District, got $10,000 from the progressive Labor and Working Families Slate.

Daniel Anderson, a consultant with the progressive slate, finds the influx of funds to moderates surprising but remains optimistic about the progressives maintaining their influence within the DCCC.

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“We’re confident that our endorsements and field work will activate Democrats who are not down with the billionaires trying to buy the election,” he said.

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