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The Grid 

Wednesday, Nov 6 1996
New Spigots, Same Hose
One of the enduring developments of this year's election cycle is that leading lights of S.F.'s Democratic Party -- Assemblywoman Carole Migden and newly elected Assemblyman Kevin Shelley and state Sen. John Burton -- turned their campaign accounts into massive spigots of political capital. In fact, they matched Gov. Pete Wilson dollar for dollar in the race to control the California Legislature.

Between January and the end of October, when the last available contribution records were filed before press time, the three S.F. officials disbursed $743,000 to 33 separate Assembly and state Senate candidates, four Democratic Party soft-money funds, and several liberal political action committees (PACs). That dollar figure could easily surpass $1 million, since the three libs had close to $500,000 left among them to spend between Oct. 31 and Nov. 5, the final push time when money gushes.

By contrast, Gov. Wilson spent $745,000 during the final days of the campaign in legislative races. Speaking to the San Francisco Examiner Oct. 30, a Wilson spokesperson boasted that the spending had gone undetected by the Democrats. If that was true, it was only because our local Dems were too busy doling out their own war chests. Election laws allow elected officials to contribute as much money as they want to other elected officials.

All wasn't so rosy for the Democrats when the election year dawned in January. In fact, the political investment firm of Burton, Migden & Shelley was founded out of dire necessity.

For the 15 years Willie Brown reigned as speaker of the California Assembly, he milked special interests for donations and nursed Democrats statewide with enough money to win come election time. In 1994, the last year Brown filled this role, $4.45 million passed through his Assembly Democrats Victory Fund and his own re-election coffers to bolster party candidates.

If Democratic lawmakers grew lazy and fat off Brown's largess, Burton, Migden & Shelley made sure they didn't have to go on a crash diet.

Going into the Nov. 5 elections, the stakes were high: If successful, Democrats could regain a majority, crown a speaker, and forestall a Republican legislative agenda that included anti-gay measures and schemes to loot S.F. of tax revenues. (From 1980 to 1994, Speaker Brown maintained a Democratic majority.)

Burton, who ran for state Senate this year after term limits ended his Assembly career, bestowed $442,000 as of Oct. 31, putting him foremost among the S.F. liberal fund-raisers.

Second place went to perpetual-motion machine Migden, who contributed $203,000 to Democrats. Shelley came in third with a still considerable $98,505 for the cause.

The week before the election, Migden said the political math behind a Democratic revolution worked like this: The Democrats had 36 Assembly seats, five shy of the required 41-seat majority in the 80-member body. Such a challenge -- the endgame of which was a matter of guesswork at press time -- required precise strategy.

Enter Willie Brown, who spoke to elected officials, con-sultants, lobbyists, and pollsters all over California and issued orders to Migden, Shelley, and Burton even before the latest polling data had hit their desks, according to Shelley.

"Everyone has noticed [the work of Burton, Migden, and Shelley]," says Bob Mulholland, the state party's campaign adviser. "Now everyone has more than one reason to love San Francisco."

Deposed Monarch of Dailies
No executive should be smarting more in the wake of last week's jury verdict against the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Newspaper Agency than Steven B. Falk, the Agency's new president and chief executive officer. The jury affirmed San Francisco Independent allegations of predatory pricing by the Ex -- a black eye for the newspaper and the Newspaper Agency, which handles all noneditorial Ex and San Francisco Chronicle business functions.

It was Falk (elevated to his new post 72 hours before the verdict) who approved a 1994 bid at issue in the case through which the Ex became the city's official newspaper. The designation carries hundreds of thousands of dollars of public notices ads the city buys to announce various municipal undertakings -- from zoning changes to auctions.

The Indy charged the Ex bid of $1.40 per line was below its costs and was nothing more than an attempt to economically harm the Indy. Falk was the executive the Ex and the Agency put on the witness stand to defend the bid as a moneymaker for the newspaper.

But nine members of the jury panel sided with the Indy, apparently disbelieving Falk's story.

"I don't see it that way," Falk said minutes after the verdict was announced. "I don't believe this verdict necessarily means they didn't believe me. It says more about the process."

Falk was referring to key rulings by the trial judge, which he and other executives who attended the proceedings claim unfairly stacked the deck against them.

Well, their troubles don't end there. The trial reconvened Tuesday so that the jury can decide just how much the Indy should be compensated. (The Fang family, publishers of the Indy, is doing OK, thank you; but their newspaper claims the lost ad revenues forced it to scale back its Sunday edition.) And then there is Jack Davis, who harbors a big grudge against the Ex and its executive editor, Phil Bronstein, and has long-standing business and social ties to the Fangs.

Davis, S.F.'s most audacious and intimidating political operator, told the Weekly a few weeks back that -- if the Ex finds itself on the wrong end of the jury's verdict -- he will run an initiative drive to ban the city from ever doing public business with the Ex or any other companies found to have engaged in predatory pricing.

Collapsing Deck Case
Terence Hallinan's high-profile manslaughter prosecution got off to a muddled start. The DA is personally trying the case against the owner of a building with a faulty deck that collapsed earlier this year.

When Hallinan appeared on trial day last week, he set down his paperwork on the desk reserved for the defendant's counsel, leaving the prosecution's traditional perch closest to the jury to defense lawyer Bill Ousterhoudt.

Luckily, a veteran bailiff recognized the snafu and quickly broke into his best rendition of an airport tarmac traffic cop, crossing his forearms and pointing the first-year DA to his proper place.

George Cothran ( and Chuck Finnie ( welcome tips, suggestions, and innuendo. Complaints, however, can be sent to SF Weekly, Attn: The Grid, 425 Brannan, San Francisco,

About The Authors

George Cothran


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