The California Fair Political Practices Commission has tossed out an ethics complaint from the SF Democratic Party, which alleged that the ads didn’t disclose how they featured a spokesperson being paid $16,000 a month.
The June 7 ballot measure hoping to recall DA Chesa Boudin is pretty divisive among San Francisco Democrats, as evidenced by the fact that the recall movement describes themselves in press releases as the “Democratic-led Safer SF Without Boudin campaign,” while the local Democratic Party is on record as opposing the recall.
But that turned into more than just a political disagreement last month when the SF Democratic Party filed a state ethics complaint against the recall, for an advertisement that featured a paid campaign spokesperson, but did not disclose that she was a paid campaign spokesperson.
As we’ve noted with previous recall ads, spokesperson Andrea Shorter is paid $16,000 a month by the recall campaign, which is not acknowledged in the ads, and she is generally described as “victims’ rights advocate.”
But SFist has learned that the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has dismissed the SF Democratic Party’s complaint, and ruled that there is no wrongdoing by the recall campaign. While the FPPC did not dispute that Shorter is paid by the campaign, they ruled she wasn’t paid for doing the ad, therefore no harm, no foul.
It’s so easy to grift in politics, it takes a special sort of incompetence to get caught at it. Andrea Shorter tried to cash in at 16k per month, but also pretend to be a disinterested community activist. https://t.co/2sJ2jwbQy4— John Hamasaki (@HamasakiLaw) January 20, 2022
We obtained the SF Democrats’ complaint to the FPPC. “The [recall] Committee’s ads are misleading and violate the Political Reform Act by failing to tell recipients and viewers that the person being featured in the ad – a purportedly independent criminal justice reformer and victims’ rights advocate – is nothing more than a paid spokesperson of the Committee,” the complaint alleges. “This strategy is particularly insidious because it is a blatant attempt to mislead the voters as to the motivations and intent of this supposed ‘reformer’ who is in fact being paid for her participation.”
"We write to request that the Fair Political Practices Commission immediately open an investigation into an unlawful and misleading political ad campaign."
The FPPC’s Enforcement Division did not buy it. In a letter dated January 28 obtained by SFist, they wrote that “The Enforcement Division determined that Shorter is employed by the Respondent committee, and payments made to Shorter were not specifically for Shorter's appearance in the subject advertisements. Therefore, the reporting obligations outlined in Section 84511 were not triggered by the Respondent committee.”
In other words, since she’s not paid specifically for the ad, they ruled that ad did not violate any election laws.
Even if the FPPC had ruled against the recall campaign, it would not have amounted to more than just a bad headline. A campaign ad violation comes with, at most, a $5,000 fine. For a recall campaign whose latest filing shows they’ve now raised $1.94 million, five grand is basically the equivalent of a pizza party for your volunteers.
But we do see that there is now a wedge among Democrats on the issue of recalling Boudin, one that may grow more contentious in the four remaining months until the election.
Image of Safer SF Without Bousin Ad via Joe Kukura, SFist