In the tight race for the District 11 State Senate seat, current SF Supervisor Jane Kim asked her opponent, Supervisor Scott Wiener, to sign a "positive campaign pledge" last week that would have restricted both candidates from mentioning one another by name in any paid advertising. Later in the day, Wiener's campaign manager Jeffrey Sparks responded to Kim's open letter with one of his own, declining the pledge and criticizing Kim for proposing it. "[We] were surprised to receive your letter, given that you ran an intensely negative, false, and misleading campaign against Supervisor Wiener in the primary," Sparks wrote. A day letter, Wiener responded in his own words, or with what SF Weekly calls "dismay," writing another open letter that stated “Democracy isn't well-served by allowing candidates — both myself and Jane Kim included — to have a monopoly on discussion of our records."
"[Because] the challenges are so great, I believe that this election is too important to not focus on the solutions," reads Kim's original request to Wiener. "And I would hope you agree and join me in issuing a pledge not to run any negative advertising during the course of the runoff election." The details of the pledge:
- I pledge to run my campaign in an honest and fair manner and to remain focused on the substantive issues important to residents of this District.
- My campaign shall not engage in, permit or condone any negative or defamatory attacks upon my opponent’s character.
- My campaign shall not mention my opponent in any paid advertising, including broadcast, cable, digital or mail.
- My campaign shall provide my opponent copies of all paid advertisements 24 hours before they are broadcast, posted or mailed.
- If my opponent or any independent group breaks this pledge, I will be permitted to respond to correct the record.
After Wiener declined the pledge, Kim launched a petition drive purportedly to persuade him. "Jane has asked her opponent, Scott Wiener, to join her in signing a positive campaign pledge... so voters can hear the ideas of both candidates and make informed decisions about who to support. Wiener responded by launching a series of false and misleading attacks against Jane. We’re hoping he will change his mind."
He does not appear likely to. Most recently, Wiener wrote today on Facebook that "No candidate has a monopoly on talking about his or her record. We're all subject to criticism, even my opponent."
Kim and Wiener advanced through the June primary, which Kim won by a margin of 370 votes, to the November general election. Theirs is already the most expensive District 11 State Senate race in history, in part because political action committees are supporting both candidates. In that regard, Kim has been critical of Wiener's perceived reliance on corporate PACs, and her website's page "Follow the Money" states that "Some of the largest corporations in the world are working behind the scenes to elect Scott Wiener." However, that narrative is complicated by an expensive, last-minute PAC push on behalf of Kim funded mostly by PG&E, a corporation that's usually the target, not the benefactor, of progressive politicians.
The presence of PACs in the race further calls into question the logic of a positive campaign pledge. As PACs can't legally coordinate with candidates themselves, it would be impossible to truly eliminate attack ads from the race writ large. With that in mind, Kim's proposal might be viewed as a political wedge that will further illustrate the candidates' differences. For her campaign, it's already being held out as an example of Wiener's ongoing negativity. Wedges, though, cut both ways. For Wiener's campaign, Kim's pledge has already become an example of her perceived hypocrisy and political naiveté.
So, now, it's probably just a countdown until another flood of mailers arrives in your inbox attacking each candidate for being in the pockets of corporate interests / not progressive enough / a hypocrite about one or the other.