So City Attorney Dennis Herrera Was on 'No on 8' Executive Committee -- Can He Do That? And What Will Enraged LGBT Activists Think?
This week, after months of rancor and a public records request, the names of the 16 folks on the No on Prop. 8 executive committee began circulating on the Internet. Very quickly, this became a case of indignant LGBT blogger see, indignant LGBT blogger link.
We couldn't help but notice that one of the 16 folks mentioned is City Attorney Dennis Herrera. This prompts two questions: Is a city attorney legally allowed to serve on the executive board of a statewide political action committee, potentially charting strategy, allotting millions of dollars, and fund-raising from folks he may well see in court one day?
And, secondly, we've written how Herrera's tenacious legal work on behalf of advancing gay marriage has helped make him a solid mayoral candidate. Does serving on the executive committee of the organization that laid a $45 million egg and lost the electoral fight for marriage equality tarnish his candidacy?
The answer to these questions, respectively, are "yes" and "perhaps." Let us explain.
The handful of California legal and good-government experts SF Weekly called could not recall a single instance in which a city attorney was so heavily involved in a major statewide political campaign (face it, San Francisco is just a political town).
That being said, all agreed that while Herrera's involvement was highly unusual, it was also certainly legally permissible.
"It's unusual for a city attorney to get involved in a statewide race. But this was an unusual race and an unusual election issue that affected San Francisco more than most other statewide measures," said Bob Stern, president of Los Angeles' Center for Governmental Studies and a former general counsel for the Fair Political Practices Commission. "Herrera was bringing the lawsuit, not judging it."
(Incidentally, San Francisco law prohibits the city attorney from weighing in on local candidates and ballot measures.).
Derek Cressman, the western states regional director of California Common Cause, also saw nothing improper about San Francisco's city attorney serving on a statewide PAC. But he did perceive one red flag: "If Herrera was in a position where he was raising money for a ballot campaign, that is entirely legal. But it creates the same potential of corruption in raising money for one's own political career. One might end up feeling beholden to a donor. I would encourage [Herrera] to disclose the funds he raised."
Fair enough, Herrera says. Just check here. The city attorney told SF Weekly that all of the fund-raising he did was through the committee he founded, Californians Against Eliminating Basic Rights -- and all of the donations are a matter of public record filed with the secretary of state's office (including that $100,000 from a Mr. Brad Pitt).
And this may help answer the second question about whether Herrera's involvement with a body that has come to epitomize arrogant failure among many LGBT activists will eclipse his courtroom heroics. That answer is likely no; Herrera insists that his only involvement with No on 8's executive committee was in handing over the money from his PAC for them to spend. He says he had no say in strategy, offered no legal advice, and did not participate in campaign planning. He just handed over the money. And while obtaining the names of No on 8's executive committee was treated as a revelation by a number of LGBT bloggers, it warrants mentioning that Herrera was identified as a member of that body all the way back in November 2008 in this article in The Advocate.
Asked if he was pleased with what his colleagues did with the hundreds of thousands of dollars he gave them, Herrera refused to take the bait: "Listen, I think we're all disappointed we lost. It was a close election. There are a lot of things we can be proud of."
That kind of answer won't appease the folks still smarting over November -- but Herrera also still has a lot of legal wrangling left to do. That's why, with court dates still pending, it's likely far too premature to judge how the LGBT community will view Herrera come the next election.
"I don't think Dennis Herrera is going to be hurt by the fact he was on this committee," said Charles Sheehan, a political consultant with Whitehurst Mosher Campaign Strategy and Media -- and cochair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT club. "LGBT advocates need to move on and overturn Prop. 8 at the ballot or in the courts -- and Dennis Herrera needs to be a part of this process. He's the meat and potatoes guy behind this whole journey. He's the one who started the lawsuit, he and his people got it to the Supreme Court, and he got it passed."