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Where Did All This Effing Election Mail Come From, and Who's Behind It?

A primer on the money that wants to win your vote, one floppy mailer at a time.


San Franciscans have gotten used to an inordinate volume of political mailers being sent to their homes, which, when piled up, effectively barricade them indoors. (If you’re reading this, please, send help! And a pizza.) But even the most paper-cut-scarred among us may have been jarred by the amount of recycling bin fodder that has arrived to sway our votes for the Democratic County Central Committee, commonly referred to as the D-Triple-C.

What gives? Why are buckets of cash being tossed into this race by political players such as Ron Conway and Airbnb? Why is there a scary dude wearing a Guy Fawkes mask on the mailer blocking my door?

Because when you control the DCCC, you get to call yourself the capital-D Democratic Party. The DCCC is, simply, the leadership of the county party. And big-money players are putting big money into determining its composition for exactly the reason you’d think they would: Endorsements. This is the body that determines the official Democratic Party imprimatur in November, a heavy turnout presidential election with the majority of the Board of Supervisors in play, when many disengaged voters will drag themselves to the polls and make a cursory check of who and what is supported by the (capital-D) Democratic Party. (It warrants mentioning that current DCCC head Mary Jung, a lobbyist for the San Francisco Association of Realtors and a political moderate, has scheduled the party endorsement meeting for June 15—prior to the installation of whomever we’ll vote for tomorrow.) 

In the meantime, your domicile is now barricaded by heaps of mailers sent out by individual candidates as well as negative fliers underwritten by the aforementioned tech elites urging San Franciscans not to vote for “The Aaron Peskin Machine” (or Guy Fawkes). It remains to be seen how effective these (costly) negative ads will be; SF State political science professor Jason McDaniel figures negative ads might fire up those already sophisticated enough to understand the implications of what “The Peskin Machine” is supposed to mean. But it’s asking a lot of voters to go through a roll-call of several score candidates and not vote for people. More effective is a list of whom to vote for, such as the one released by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (though the Marin resident raised many eyebrows when he urged San Franciscans to “join Gavin Newsom in voting for” his preferred candidates). 

And yet, despite the millions of dollars being tossed around and despite the acrimony, the conventional wisdom around town is that voters will peruse the long list of would-be party commissioners and vote for the names they know and ignore the names they don’t. Of note, 9 of 11 sitting supervisors are running for spots on the DCCC; several would have the pleasure of endorsing themselves for re-election come November. (Amazingly, you can do this. This, the epitome of a conflict of interest, is not considered a conflict of interest.) 

Which is worse: simplistic name-recognition politics or boatloads of money bankrolling sleazy political drive-bys? It’s a stark choice—and, it appears, it’s the only choice we’ve got this go-round. 

We’ll also be voting
on a raft of big-dollar ballot propositions, the president of the United States, the successor to Senator Barbara Boxer, and, intriguingly, the state senate primary battle between Supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener. Wiener is a methodical candidate, legislator, and human being; he long ago lined up the valued endorsements and pulled in the big-money funders. But Kim, who is, at this moment, likely stumping for votes at Crissy Field while Dave Matthews rocks for Bernie Sanders has potentially laid the ground for an epic end-around. (Of note: When Kim’s longtime political consultant Enrique Pearce was hit with child pornography charges last year, it necessitated her shopping for a new strategist. She settled on Eric Jaye—which was a major upgrade. For Warriors fans, this was the equivalent of an injury to David Lee forcing the team to insert Draymond Green into the starting lineup.) 

Whether or not Sanders is a distant memory come fall, Kim has tapped into his army of fervent supporters. Meanwhile, with Democrats battling Democrats across California in November thanks to this state’s open primary system, Wiener might find his natural Sacramento donors flooding money into other contested races around the region. If Kim makes it close Tuesday or even pips Wiener at the post, that’s an extremely positive sign for her campaign. Either way, political insiders tell us, expect “a closer and more interesting race” than many had previously considered. 

One prediction many have long held is no less true now than before: November’s election, in which six supervisorial districts are up for grabs, figures to be a once-in-a-generation contest. Various players have been amassing arms for quite some time. Tomorrow's outcome will reveal how well everyone aimed their opening salvoes. The piles of mail you’ve been wading through: This is just the beginning.  


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