Warren Hellman Leaves Prop. B Campaign -- Shocks Prop. B Backers

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Joyce Goldschmid
Warren Hellman has moved on to Plan B...
No obligation for campaign to return Hellman's $50K

The No on Proposition B camp -- the union-backed assault on the measure that would mandate workers up their pension and health care contributions -- released a shocker today.

An e-mail hit San Francisco inboxes with a statement from Warren Hellman -- the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass billionaire and $50,000 donor to Prop. B. Hellman has announced he no longer supports the Jeff Adachi-penned measure. This came as a complete shock to Adachi, his spokeswoman Darcy Brown, and Prop. B treasurer Craig Weber. It is also unclear if Hellman will ask for his money back -- and if the campaign is obliged to give it to him.

SF Weekly's call to Hellman, placed through his executive assistant, has not yet been returned.

His short statement disseminated by Prop. B opponents claimed he had something of an epiphany during the weekend's bluegrass festival.

"I'm leaving the Yes on Proposition B campaign for the same reason I got involved in the campaign in the first place - we need a meaningful dialogue in San Francisco between business and labor to solve long-term problems threatening the city's future without name-calling and fingerpointing.
 
"We must address the issue of spiraling public pension and health benefits costs. They're like an iceberg floating beneath the surface that threatens to sink cities like ours. At the same time, I'm not willing scapegoat police officers, firefighters and other public workers to do it."
 
...
 
"I was reminded of this spirit at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this past weekend.  We pulled off a massive free concert in Golden Gate Park without one major injury, disruption or arrest, which is a testament to the professionalism of San Francisco's public workers and our City's spirit of cooperation.
 
"I believe that organized labor appreciates that it is in San Francisco's interest - and the interest of its members -- to head off a looming pension and benefits crisis before it cripples public services and leaves police officers, firefighters and other public workers without retirement security.
 
The e-mail also contained a statement from Labor Council head Tim Paulson: "On behalf of the Labor community, we are very pleased that Warren Hellman has withdrawn his support from the Yes on B campaign. Many of us in organized labor have worked closely with Mr. Hellman in recent years to rebuild San Francisco's schools and fund public education and we were disappointed to be at odds on this measure."

When asked if the No on B campaign contacted Hellman to make this move or Hellman reached out to them, spokesman Nathan Ballard would only say "I'm going to let Mr. Hellman's statement speak for itself." Fair enough -- but that doesn't answer the question.

Today's move caught Prop. B author Adachi, spokeswoman Brown, and treasurer Weber completely flat-footed. Should Hellman attempt to recover his funds -- and should the Prop. B campaign deign to return them -- it could present monetary problems for the measure's backers. "Whether there's an obligation to refund it, I don't know," said Weber. "I don't even know if funds are available to refund it at this point."

Update, 3:50 p.m.: John St. Croix, the executive director of the city's ethics commission, said Adachi's campaign is not mandated to return Hellman's donation, should he opt to ask for it back.

"In state law under Section 85319 of the Political Reform Act, a campaign is allowed to return all or part of a contribution at any time," St. Croix notes.  "However, there is nothing in the way the law is written that requires the campaign to return the contribution.  Even if a contribution has been returned, if it has been deposited, it still has to be reported."

Adachi thanked Hellman "for his early support of this initiative and helping us to bring it where it is now.

"Our opponents can try to undo as many endorsements as they can," he continued. "What they're not going to be able to undo is the huge pension crisis that's breaking the backs of working families."

As far as a refund -- which Hellman has not yet requested -- Adachi noted that the donation was received "some time ago. I believe those funds are already expended."

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