So the other day I called up the Elections Department to check up on the procedures and schedule to run for mayor...
Turns out that the filing fee you have to pay just to get on the ballot is over $5000! Having to pay $500 to run for School Board or Supervisor was bad enough, and outrageous in its own right, but $5K is completely insane! How many of us have an extra five grand lying around to spend on top of the opportunity cost of taking time out of your life for a political campaign to try to help bring a little sanity to the city you love?
Oh sure, they give you the option of submitting voter signatures instead of paying the fee. But each signature you get (which is not just a signature -- signers have to print their names and the addresses where they registered to vote as well as signing, and if any of that information is wrong or invalid, the signature doesn't count), only reduces that fee by $.50. So I'd have to get over 10,000 signatures to totally offset the fee. Furthermore, they only give you a little over a month in which to gather these signatures. In practical terms, it's next to impossible -- I don't know of one candidate who's done it.
The hypocrisy alone is galling. City officials go after businesses with hefty fines for violating their wage control laws, but anyone helping a candidate gather signatures to run for mayor would be effectively working for much less than San Francisco's government-mandated minimum wage of $9.75 an hour. Assuming you and your helpers were able to get a valid voter signature every 6 minutes (which in my experience circulating petitions is optimistic), you're still only making the equivalent of $5.00 an hour. At that rate, you'd need to work over 1,000 hours (or 50 hours a week for 20 weeks) just to pay the filing fee to get on the ballot -- never mind the money you'd need to run a visible campaign.
Meanwhile, the so-called "leading candidates" for mayor -- you know, the sitting politicians, former politicians, and millionaires -- who can round up at least 250 wealthy friends and lobbyists-in-waiting willing to pony up $100 or more a piece, can qualify for public matching funds at taxpayer expense. In fact they're already raking in your cash. According to yesterday's San Francisco Examiner, the Ethics Commission "expects candidates to gobble up $4.7 million from the general fund by the end of June."
But if you're poor and want to run for mayor without having been voted "likely to succeed", your choices are as follows:
(1) Find one or more wealthy people willing to foot the bill
(2) You and a bunch of your supporters take time out from whatever you normally do to bust your butts for a month working for less than minimum wage
(3) Forget about it
The Democrats who run San Francisco could easily change this if they wanted to. All it would take is a vote by the Board of Supervisors. If they really cared about democracy, equality and representing the poor, these outrageous "pay-to-play" filing fees would be gone yesterday! But to them, those ideals are mere platitudes to which they pay lip service, the way Republicans talk about the Constitution and limited government -- and that's on a good day.
The most we're likely to see is some handwringing in the Guardian about the influence of money in politics, and then the paper will probably go on to endorse the establishment candidates anyway.
No, if you want to learn their real attitude toward the poor, their real commitment to democracy and a political system not dominated by the wealthy, go down to City Hall and tell them you want to run for mayor, but don't have $5000 to fork over and can't afford to take a month off from your job to gather signatures at half minimum wage. See how seriously they take your concerns.
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If you'd like to verify the claims I've made in this post for yourself, feel free to contact the San Francisco Department of Elections. Their number is (415) 554-4375, or you can email them at [email protected] .