San Francisco interim Mayor Ed Lee speaks to reporters after he filed paperwork to officially run for mayor on August 8, 2011 in San Francisco. Lee formally announced his intentions to run for a full term as mayor after he had promised that he wouldn't run when he was appointed to the office earlier in the year.
In August, Mayor Ed Lee decided to forgo $900,000 in campaign funds and not participate in The City's public campaign financing program. Citing the City's dismal budget situation, Lee said he simply couldn't use taxpayer money to finance his re-election bid.
Now just two months later, independent groups have nearly matched that amount, raising almost $800,000 to help Lee in his campaign, according to the latest Ethics Commission campaign finance documents, released Thursday.
Independent groups pool money together to support or attack a candidate or a cause; and unlike other candidate contributions, independent groups can raise and spend money freely and are not subject to a $500 individual donation cap.
Lee leads the race in terms of independent support. The other 10 series candidates in the race have received a combined total of only $515,000 from independent groups, from which around $40,000 has been spent on a series of attack mailers against Lee by the Union-backed committee City Residents Opposing Ed Lee.
Some political consultants view the extra spending as going against the spirit of San Francisco's public financing system, which is designed to help level the political playing field.
But Corey Cook, a University of San Francisco political science professor, tells the Examiner that public financing has served it's purpose in this years mayoral race by allowing more voices in the electoral process and providing them a chance to "run real campaigns."
"It has elevated the number of voices in the election," Cook said. "But that doesn't ensure they aren't shouted out by other voices."