We all know the query about who will watch the watchmen. But what about the watchmen's consultants?
After Dennis Herrera's tubthumping that a full-blown investigation was required of alleged money-laundering after shuttle bus drivers claimed they were made to donate to Mayor Ed Lee, District Attorney George Gascón has done just that.
You'd think it's a no-brainer to open an investigation into financial improprieties when the Bay Citizen quotes drivers baldly alleging a conspiracy to evade campaign finance laws and benefit the mayor. And this is true. But mayoral candidate Herrera and DA candidate Gascón share more than the opinion this matter bears looking into. They also both have Whitehurst and Mosher Campaigns calling their shots.
Naturally, both Herrera's spokesman Matt Dorsey and Gascón consultant Maggie Muir didn't see a conflict here. "The decision about whether to investigate is done by investigators," said Dorsey. "There must be no political consideration in that at all." Dorsey also noted that when DA investigators read The Bay Citizen articles in which men confess to crimes and allege conspiracies, that probably influences investigators' decisionmaking process.
Bill Barnes, Lee's campaign manager, noted "it's not our position that the fact they share a campaign consultant is the reason why this is going forward. The mayor says he wants zero tolerance for those who break the rules. We're not looking to point fingers."
But, if he were, it's not at all clear where he'd point. Determining conflicts of interest is normally the purview of the city attorney. That's doubly problematic here -- not only is Herrera somewhat involved in this matter, Dorsey says decisions involving criminal cases are bumped to the DA.
Well, guess what? That's problematic, too. In this case, however, spokesman Omid Talai said the DA's office determined there was no conflict here. If it had been less certain, he notes, it would have consulted the attorney general's office.
Outside complainants who feel this whole situation is too cozy could also seek the AG's intervention -- or could rail to the Ethics Commission or even make a complaint directly to the state bar association.
Whether that comes to pass will likely depend upon just what those DA investigators turn up. Or don't.
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