"People want to give contributions to people who are in power. [Late donations] happen all the time, particularly from business groups or anyone who has business pending and wants to be on the good side of the person in power," said Stern, the president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
Stern recently scoured statewide campaign filings, and noted that the California Medical Association made a late donation to every state legislator -- the most conservative Republican and the most liberal Democrat -- except for one guy. When Stern queried why this legislator was skipped, the CMA's response was, "Oh! We better give to him!"
"It's all about three words: "Losers don't legislate,'" Stern continued. "And those losers, by the way, will not be retiring their debts. It's almost like an ante -- but the system allows it." What's more, in San Francisco, donors are capped at $500 per election cycle -- meaning candidates hoping to retire debts have to reach further than their base of supporters.
Both Avalos and Mar told SF Weekly that they did not, personally, solicit their former opponents to make donations. Avalos noted that "there were a couple of breakfast meetings" attended by people he "didn't ask" to be there. Mar noted that "there were others behind the scenes saying 'You better call Eric.' I didn't make any proactive effort to reach out, but there are others out there who know how the system works who encouraged [former opponents] to reach out to me."
Sean Keighran, the president of the Residential Builders Association (RBA) told SF Weekly that "mutual friends" asked if they could "help out" with Mar's debt. RBA members had walked in more than 150 precincts for Sue Lee, but Keighran made a few phone calls and a handful of builders, retired builders, or their wives kicked in a few thousand dollars.
According to the most recent campaign filings, Mar wiped out his debt with $14,048 in post-election donations, while Avalos is still looking at a $3,700 debt after raising $9,400 in post-election donations.
Avalos insisted that he "won the election knowing firmly what I ran on and whose interests I was promoting. Most of them were neighborhood interests." When asked why lawyers, lobbyists, and business groups felt the need to come running with their checkbooks, he noted that "it behooved those who possibly thought they lost influence." When asked if those who hadn't supported him actually did lose influence, he answered "I would say they didn't."
So why give? Isn't this just a quasi-compulsory buy-in for those with pending business to sit at the big boys' table?
"People always look at politics and say it looks fishy," Avalos continued. "That's what politics is about. That's what special interests are -- they have special interests. They want influence over people. I have to live with people who believe that all the time."
Apparently, it was either that or live with a campaign debt.