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home / citizen / in the media

San Francisco Examiner
Jun 01, 2000

by Chuck Finnie

Petition to throttle campaign donations

Ballot measure would leave tricky question of political gifts to voters
A consumers advocacy group says it has gathered enough signatures to allow San Francisco voters to decide whether city officials can accept campaign contributions and gifts from city contractors.

But whether the measure, if passed, could survive a legal challenge is uncertain.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights fielded what it says was an all-volunteer petition drive to put the reform measure on the ballot this November in San Francisco and in five other California cities.

"What we want is to make sure votes are not traded for dollars. Every day politicians are faced with decisions that are decided not on what's best for citizens but on what is best for financing their future campaigns," said Bill Gallager, director of the project for the foundation.

"Beyond the issues, what this turn-in of signatures says is that contracted-out democracy doesn't have to be the rule of the day. Real citizens can, and sometimes do, succeed on their own," Gallager said.

Under the proposed ballot measure, called the City and County of San Francisco Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000, city officials would be barred from accepting campaign contributions, gifts or job offers from entities to whom they have given a "public benefit."

The measure defines a public benefit as any service or supply contract, land sale, planning or zoning decision, tax break or franchise agreement valued at $50,000 or more.

The prohibition would expire two years after the official leaves public office, or six years after the award of the public benefit, whichever comes first.

San Francisco lawyer Fred Lowell, who has helped business interests challenge other local campaign finance restrictions, said he believes the proposed measure probably goes too far.

Essentially, it would require individuals who do business with local government -- or whose enterprises are regulated by local agencies -- to forfeit their right to support candidates for office with campaign contributions, Lowell said.

"I believe that such a provision would be subject to constitutional attack," he said.

The petition drive is led by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and is being carried out under the name of the Oaks Project, part of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica.

Leaders of the effort in San Francisco were scheduled to deliver the signatures of 15,000 registered city voters to the Department of Elections on Thursday morning.

Announcements also were planned about petitions to place the same measure on the November ballot in the cities of Santa Monica; Pasadena; Irvine, Orange County; Claremont, Los Angeles County; and Vista, San Diego County.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is led by Harvey Rosenfield, who gained statewide prominence by leading the 1988 insurance reform initiative Proposition 103.

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