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The Money Behind 'Run, Ed, Run'

Nine people are providing most of the campaign's financial support

Updated Aug. 2, 2011 at 7:08 p.m.

A handful of business leaders with longstanding ties to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce has provided most of the financial support for the effort to draft interim Mayor Ed Lee into the mayor’s race, new campaign finance filings show.

The highly anticipated, 17-page disclosure forms filed late Monday by Progress For All, the committee behind “Run Ed Run,” offer a glimpse into a political organization heavily reliant on the personal connections of Rose Pak, the lobbyist for the Chinese Chamber. Yet the filings offered little evidence of an outpouring of grassroots support for Lee -- at least financially -- which the campaign had said fueled its effort.

Progress For All brought in over $49,000 during the period spanning its inception in early May until June 31. Seven donors gave $5,000 gifts while two gave $3,000 each. The remaining $8,000 came from 179 donors who sent in checks smaller than $500 each.

Because Lee has not yet decided to run for mayor, Progress For All could establish itself as a general purpose committee. According to San Francisco's campaign finance laws, such committees can receive unlimited donations from individuals.  But a candidate-controlled committee formed to elect a politician can only accept up to $500 from individual donors.

Enrique Pearce, the political consultant steering the committee, disputed the characterization that the campaign was funded largely by a few large checks.

"Progress for All has over 188 different donors," he wrote in an email to The Bay Citizen. "Contributions under $100 are lumped together on every Form 460, so they do not show as separate entries."

Among the major donors were Victor Makras, the real estate developer with close ties to former Mayors Art Agnos and Willie Brown; Ringo Wong, a successful trans-Pacific jeweler; Francis So of Fon Express; and Robert Chiang and Florence Kong, two of the city’s prominent Chinese-American construction contractors.

Since the Agnos campaign in 1992, Pak has worked with many of these donors -- a tight circle of wealthy businesspeople, mostly émigrés from Hong Kong -- to channel money into candidates to win political access. And with her access to their deep pockets, Pak, in turn, has gained enormous personal clout over the years, becoming a kingmaker whose reach extends beyond Chinatown to almost every corner of the city.

“I’m looking at this list and there are no surprises here,” said David E. Lee, the executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee and a lecturer at San Francisco State University. “They’re acquaintances of Rose Pak.”

The filings also showed that the campaign’s signature gatherers were paid $986 in total. That sum was covered by an in-kind contribution by W. Wong Construction Co. Inc., the company headed by Walter Wong, one of the city’s most well-known permit expediters and a longtime friend to both Lee and Pak. Pearce told The Bay Citizen that the campaign began paying workers $11 an hour in the latter weeks of the signature drive as its volunteer corps’ enthusiasm waned.

The committee was also some $20,000 in debt, mostly to Pearce's consulting firm, Left Coast Communications.

"Having accrued expenses is a very normal accounting procedure," Pearce said. "Every campaign has accrued expenses -- this is not unusual."

In recent weeks, “Run Ed Run” has been besieged by a flurry of criticism, largely from mayoral candidates whose campaigns would be threatened if Lee entered the race. Last week, a group of five major candidates led by Supervisor David Chiu, the board president, jointly called for an ethics investigation into Progress For All. And Quentin Kopp, a former supervisor, state senator and judge, has gone even further, writing a letter urging District Attorney George Gascon and the U.S. Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation.

Erica Derryck, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said, “It’s too early to say what, if anything, will result from that, but we will examine it closely and proceed based on what our review of the letter indicates.”

Meanwhile, Chiu announced solid fundraising numbers for the first half of the year despite speculation that his bid has been undercut by the prospect of a Lee candidacy as potential donors withhold their contributions.

The board president raised almost $400,000 in 2011, far exceeding any other candidate. City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former Supervisor Bevan Dufty both raised $300,000, while state Sen. Leland Yee, regarded by some as the current front runner, announced an unremarkable total of just about $232,000. The veteran politician, who has not lost a race since 1988, has been overtaken by Joanna Rees, the venture capitalist and political newcomer who has raised more than $800,000, much of it from public financing, and continues to have $417,000 in cash on hand.

Heading into the late summer months, Herrera has by far the most cash to spend, having stockpiled more than $571,000, while Dufty holds just shy of $500,000. John Avalos, the progressive standard-bearer who made a relatively late entrance into the race, has struggled to gain traction so far, having raised just $87,000.

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