One of the two recall efforts seeking to oust San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin reported nearly $650,000 in donations in recent months, thanks largely to a single, deep-pocketed political action committee, according to recent campaign finance filings.
The money likely will provide a boost to the San Franciscans for Public Safety Supporting the Recall of Chesa Boudin campaign ahead of its Oct. 25 deadline to submit signatures to city elections officials.
The group’s fundraising efforts have dwarfed those of a rival recall campaign, the Committee Supporting the Recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin, which reported a total of $273,000 brought since it began collecting signatures in March.
That group’s deadline is much sooner, with the group required to collect 51,325 signatures by Aug. 11 to qualify for a special election.
The two recall groups have collected a combined total of $921,000, while two anti-recall campaigns supporting Boudin have picked up $485,000.
The most recent donations, which were reported last week, reflect the city’s sharply polarized views of crime and criminal justice in San Francisco.
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Recall supporters say Boudin rarely holds lawbreakers accountable for their actions, and that his policies have driven crimes like burglaries and car break-ins to epidemic levels. Boudin’s backers point to police statistics that show violent crime rates remain at generational lows and that fluctuations with crime rates last year were more likely due to an economically shattering pandemic.
Bankrolling $400,000 — nearly two-thirds — of the second recall campaign’s war chest is a PAC called Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, according to the most recent campaign finance filings. The two biggest contributors to that PAC were investment banker Steven Merrill of Marco Ventures and William Oberndorf, a hedge fund investor.
The Neighbors group also donated funding to two other committees called the Common Sense Voter Guide and Stop All Asian Hate. Those two groups acted as intermediaries, sending a combined $170,000 “earmarked” funds from the Neighbors committee to the recall campaign, according to campaign finance reports.
Andrea Shorter, spokesperson for the Public Safety recall, said the donations are a testament to voters’ trust in their results. She said the Common Sense Voter Guide and Stop All Asian Hate committees made the decision to contribute to the recall fund on their own accord.
Records show that until recently, the Common Sense Voter guide was controlled by Mary Jung, principal officer of the recall committee. Jung is a former chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and a realtor lobbyist. Stop all Asian Hate’s treasurer is Vanita Louie, who is listed on the recall website as a supporter.
Julie Edwards, a spokesperson for one of Boudin’s anti-recall committees, said it should be “alarming” to San Francisco voters that what she deemed a dark money PAC has marshaled nearly a half-million dollars into an effort to remove an elected district attorney.
“We know District Attorney Boudin has taken on powerful special interests and now it seems those same special interests are working in the dark to undo the 2019 election,” she said.
The recall campaign with the more pressing deadline, Committee Supporting the Recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin, was mostly funded by individual donors, with a handful kicking in substantial contributions. They include David Sacks, an entrepreneur and tech mogul who donated $75,000, and Daniel O’Keefe, a Chicago-based investor and former San Francisco resident who pitched in $50,000.
The anti-recall effort includes two committees. The first, Friends of Chesa Boudin Opposing the Recall, is sponsored by Boudin himself. The second is San Franciscans Against the Recall of Chesa Boudin, a local branch of the Real Justice PAC, a political action committee that supports reform-minded prosecutors.
The PAC’s highest-profile co-founder, Shaun King, is an activist who has received attention for his work exposing police brutality. He has also garnered controversy over claims he has mismanaged funds and donations related to other projects.
Chris Larsen, executive chairman of Ripple Labs, was the top donor for the Friends of Chesa campaign, contributing $100,000.
The Real Justice PAC pitched in $100,000 to its own, local anti-recall committee. Major committee funding came from Grassroots Law PAC, which donated $200,000 and Patty Quillin, a philanthropist and wife of Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings. Quillin donated $20,000 to the Real Justice PAC.
Each of the four groups has drawn donations from at least 100 individuals as well, according to a Chronicle review of financial filings. The first recall committee has more than 230 individual donors listed while the second has about 120. The Friends of Chesa committee has more than 140 and the Real Justice PAC drew contributions from about 172 individuals.
This second recall campaign, which publicly launched in April, has billed itself as a moderate Democrat’s alternative to its forerunner, which is viewed as a Republican-led effort.
Richie Greenberg, a former San Francisco Republican mayoral candidate who serves as the public face of the first recall campaign, has sought to push back on the perception that his group is GOP-fueled. In an interview with The Chronicle, Greenberg said he is no longer registered as a Republican and that recall backers are primarily Democrats.
Greenberg said the second, competing recall campaign has damaged his own by confusing voters. But he said a recent donation from Sacks has convinced him the first recall efforts will be successful.
“We’ve got two weeks more or less to go, but we are very confident,” he said.
Megan Cassidy is a crime reporter with The Chronicle, also covering cops, criminal justice issues and mayhem. Previously, Cassidy worked for the Arizona Republic covering Phoenix police, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and desert-area crime and mayhem. She is a two-time graduate of the University of Missouri, and has additionally worked at the Casper Star-Tribune, National Geographic and an online publication in Buenos Aires. Cassidy can be reached on twitter at @meganrcassidy, and will talk about true crime as long as you’ll let her.Written BySusie NeilsonReach Susie on
Susie Neilson is a data reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle. Previously, she was a science fellow at Business Insider, covered COVID-19 and criminal justice for KQED and worked as a private investigator at the Mintz Group. Her work has also appeared in NPR, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and The New Yorker, among other publications. She is a 2019 graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she studied investigative and multimedia reporting.