City Attorney Dennis Herrera is calling for a criminal investigation into new allegations against his rival Mayor Ed Lee, whose donors are accused of laundering money for his campaign through business associates as a way sidestep campaign contribution limits.
The Bay Citizen broke the story yesterday afternoon, reporting that Lee's donors may have colluded with the manager of GO Lorrie's, a shuttle company at SFO, who solicited as much as $8,000 in campaign contributions from employees. Sixteen of the company's employees donated $500 -- the campaign cap -- to Lee's campaign after being told they would be reimbursed by their company, according to the newspaper.
Herrera this morning fired off a three-page letter to the U.S. Attorney, the Attorney General, and District Attorney George Gascon, pointing out that if what these employees told the Bay Citizen is true, that is a violation of state and local campaign laws.
"Allowing these questions to remain wholly unanswered can only serve to betray San Franciscans' confidence in the integrity of their public institutions, and potentially diminish the legitimacy of their elected leadership," Herrera wrote in the letter.
Lee's campaign has reportedly returned some $8,500 in donations that were in question. Tony Winnicker, spokesman for Lee's campaign, sent us the following statement:
"Mayor Lee's campaign is committed to 100 percent compliance with all campaign laws and we deplore any violation," Winnicker said. "That's why we return any contributions that raise suspicion through our own review, inquiries and concerns."
Herrera, who is also running for mayor, pointed out that this is another example of how Lee's been running a campaign plagued by ethical and legal questions. Specifically, Herrera is referring to Lee's connection to the controversial "Run, Ed, Run" committee, which bolstered Lee's candidacy this summer, collecting money and support long before Lee declared he was running for mayor. Since the committee wasn't technically supporting a candidate, members could collect unlimited cash, per the campaign laws. But mayoral candidates accused the committee -- run by Lee's buddy and Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak -- of sidestepping campaign laws to help Lee get a leg up in the race.
The Ethics Commission as well as the District Attorney cleared the committee of any wrongdoing.
Lee's campaign, which has been going back-and-forth with Herrera's camp on the topic of ethics, fired this question back to the city attorney:
"Has Dennis Herrera returned his illegal contributions from contractors and lobbyists? When will Dennis Herrera call for an investigation of his own campaign and the City Attorney's office over far larger ethical lapses and legal violations?"
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