Friday, September 04, 2015

Broke-Ass Stuart and the dumb-ass Examiner

Give Stuart money

The SF Examiner has been going downhill for years, and we can only hope it doesn't go any lower than it is now. 

Joe Rodriguez functions as a publicist for the "improvements" to city streets pushed by the Bicycle Coalition and the MTA (see this and this), when he isn't writing editorials (Media must hold City Hall accountableabout that phony bribery scandal:

Last week, scandalous accusations rocked Mayor Ed Lee’s office, alleging he took bribes and regularly practices the shadiest of pay-to-play politics...This is where news coverage does its most important work, shaping the conversation with information and commentary. So when I opened up The San Francisco Chronicle last week and turned to the editorial page, my jaw dropped to the floor. The Chronicle’s stance on the bribery accusations against Ed Lee basically amounted to, “Hold your horses, everybody. Take this all with a big grain of salt.”

The Chronicle was right. The accusations---that's all they are---were in a brief filed by defense lawyers for Raymond Chow, a diversionary tactic to show "selective prosecution" against their client.

Rodriguez reaches for a Big Story that isn't there:

This is a major moment, when years of foggy rumors of dark political money have finally parted, revealing the clearest look anyone in San Francisco has seen of this behavior so far. Yet in this pivotal time, the Chronicle has jumped straight to Lee’s defense. The Chronicle’s editorial began by saying Lee is “normally the squeakiest of clean players.” Do the Chronicle’s editorial writers read their own newspaper? A May 2015 story by Chronicle reporter Heather Knight revealed total numbers on Lee’s “behested payments,” which many local news media have often covered. Her story detailed more than $10 million in what her sources called “‘an ugly loophole’ that allows politicians to collect unlimited amounts of money while getting around much more stringent campaign finance limits.”

But taking advantage of "loopholes" in the law by definition is legal. Nothing in Knight's story supports the charge that Mayor Lee did anything illegal. In fact the "behested" payments she listed went to pay for public projects like a jobs program and lighting up City Hall. 

Of course those payments from special interests are a bad idea and could lead to a quid pro quo---and, at the very least, already show an appearance of special treatment. That loophole should be closed, the terrible Citizens United decision should be overturned, and, while we're at it, swords should be turned into plowshares.

Knight quotes Larry Bush:

“The people who are making those contributions are also seeking his approval for benefits that they want,” Bush said. “It’s virtually pay-to-play.” He pointed out that donors of behested payments can even get a tax write-off since they’re considered charitable donations, whereas regular campaign contributions don’t qualify. Bush even paid for his own study of behested payments, since the Ethics Commission doesn’t make them easy to search in any meaningful way. According to Bush, Lee’s $10 million far surpasses what previous mayors have raised. (A Chronicle article in 2009 found that former Mayor Gavin Newsom had raised $1.2 million in behested payments in the previous 51/2 years.)

So what does the massive fundraising mean? “It says he has a very cozy relationship with very wealthy people and corporations,” Bush said.

No shit! But I bet neither Bush nor Knight think any of that was/is actually illegal. It's just bad public policy permitted under a flawed law that favors the rich and the powerful. No news there, just business as usual.

Broke-Ass Stuart agrees with Rodriguez (Don’t settle for a corrupt city):

It’s kind of like gravity. We always knew the world was run by inexplicably powerful forces, but it took Isaac Newton putting a name to it for us to truly realize it was there. And that’s what happened last week with Mayor Ed Lee. From the tax breaks for tech giants to the carte blanche given to greedy developers, most San Franciscans just assumed there was a powerful crookedness behind the things happening at City Hall. But it took last week’s reports from court filings by Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow’s legal team to fully expose the corruption that’s been redefining our city. This has been our Theory of Gravity moment, and Shrimp Boy is our unlikely Newton.

The contents of "court filings" are not evidence of anything unless supported by other sources. The "carte blanche" was provided for developers by City Hall when it---and a "progressive" board of supervisors---to cite a couple of examples, created the Market/Octavia Plan and allowed UC to hijack the old extension site on lower Haight Street for a massive housing development. These are issues that candidate for mayor Broke-Ass Stuart apparently knows nothing about.

KQED is practicing that "grain of salt" journalism on this issue. Their first story reacts to the original Examiner story, and their follow-up story shows what Chow's lawyers were trying to do. The judge wasn't going for it:

“I see no evidence whatsoever of any crime or wrongdoing by the mayor,” [Judge]Breyer told Briggs and Serra from the bench...Breyer pressed Briggs on what the “context of an illegal donation” means. “A bribe,” Briggs said. But when Breyer pressed further, Briggs couldn’t produce evidence directly linking Lee to criminal wrongdoing...“There’s nothing in the record that demonstrates that the mayor was involved in the contributions, or splitting it up, or that there was any impermissible quid pro quo,” Breyer said...Breyer suggested to the defense that Lee and others may not have been prosecuted because the evidence wasn’t there. “No, too big to fall,” Serra responded. “Too big to fall.”

“There’s nothing there, Mr. Serra,” Breyer said.

But Chow's lawyers were undaunted, since they achieved what they set out to do: get the accusations in the record so they could use that "evidence" before a jury during Chow's trial, hoping that a jury will be a lot more credulous than Judge Breyer:

Serra said allegations brought up in the selective prosecution motion will be central to the defense’s case when Chow’s jury trial begins. “They could have got other political people easy as pie,” [Tony]Serra said after court. “They chose not to, and this motion here, we wanted to find out really, why didn’t you? Why didn’t you go to the grand jury on the mayor? Why didn’t you further the investigation?...You’re going to find that they didn’t want to touch this very strong political core in San Francisco. They wanted to get our client Shrimp Boy. They were blind to everything else. So that’s going to help us with a jury.”

The unsupported accusations in the filing slime District 5 Supervisor Breed. From the original Examiner story:

Board of Supervisors President London Breed, specifically, is named in the filing as a politician who one can pay for access and favors. In Breed’s case, according to the filing, Derf Butler, a politically connected businessman who worked for Yee with Jackson, told an FBI source that he “pays Supervisor Breed with untraceable debit cards for clothing and trips in exchange for advantages on contracts in San Francisco.”

Breed denied the claim Tuesday. “That’s absolutely false. I can’t be responsible for what other people say,” Breed said. “Where’s the evidence? Where’s the proof? I can say without a doubt that I didn’t take anything from anybody. If I had, I would probably be prosecuted as well.” The entire investigation, Breed said, appears to have been a fishing expedition by the FBI, and in many cases they unfairly focused on black leaders.

And Chow's lawyers took material from that investigation and are using it to set up a defense when he goes on trial. To Chow's lawyers the people slimed in the process are nothing but collateral damage. 

Even though I've been Supervisor Breed's harshest critic, I find these accusations against her contemptible and defamatory. 

The problem with Breed is not that she's on the take but that she's wrong on every important issue facing the city, though occasionally she gets something right.

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