S.F. Voter Pamphlet to Cease Listing Which Candidates Agreed to Spending Limits

Categories: Government
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If you offer your vote according to which candidate accepted to spend no more than the city's voluntary expenditure ceiling -- there must be some of you -- well, then we've got bad news. You're going to have to do a little more work to figure out who's minding the city's rules and who's potentially breaking the bank.

Starting on the first of the year, the city's Voter Information Pamphlet will no longer list which candidates agreed to the spending limit and which didn't. Depending upon your worldview, this move either cleans up a paradoxical situation in which those who may well have spent like Croesus in Vegas were rewarded with the designation of being fiscally restrained -- or is yet another concession to big money.

Proponents of the change -- which, officially "delete(s) the requirement that the Director of Elections publish notices in the Voter Information Pamphlet indicating which candidates have accepted the voluntary expenditure ceiling" point out that, by the time a candidate was listed as having accepted to rein in his or her spending in the pamphlet, it may not have been true in reality.

"The Voter Information Pamphlet goes to print well in advance to the election, and the ceilings are often lifted and then changed in September and October," said John St. Croix, executive director of the Ethics Commission. "So the information in the VIP is often incomplete and often inaccurate, and probably not a good use of city money or space in the voter guide."

Others, however, feel this is a clear concession to big-money campaigns that never intended to abide by the spending limits. "It does serve to debase the value of the pledge to comply," said Charles Marsteller, the former San Francisco head of California Common Cause. Larry Bush, one of the authors of the Ethics Charter in 1993, was also upset. "It's a surprising development considering government at every level is trying to make information more transparent -- and certainly San Francisco is viewed by its own officials as being in the lead in this regard. Certainly this does not benefit those people who subscribe to the voter mandate on spending limits. More importantly, it does not benefit the public."

Voters who wish to know who's naughty and who's nice regarding campaign spending will have to either visit the Ethics Commission Web site or rely upon journalists to start squawking.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd doesn't foresee much of either. When asked if this move was a good thing or a bad thing, he replied "I don't see it as much of a thing at all.

"In all my years campaigning, I never came across one person who asked me if I accepted campaign limits or not," he continued.

And, for the record, he didn't.

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