September 30, 2008

The Business of Ballot Booklet Brokering

Campaigner and ex-City Hall aide David Noyola illustrates how insiders spin local elections

By Matthew Hirsch, Newsdesk.org/The Public Press

Like many who work in San Francisco City Hall, David Noyola last month was answering two phones, a land line for his official duties, and an iPhone to talk politics.

Noyola has since left his position as a legislative aide for Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, and for election 2008 has put his specialized knowledge to use as a professional campaigner.

His work in these two capacities illustrates how insiders can have sizable impacts on local elections. In Noyola’s case, his influence is currently most visible in the city’s voter information guide — the thick booklet published before each election that lists all the candidates and initiatives, as well as the official and paid arguments in support or opposition.

Working separately as a partisan electioneer and as an aide for Peskin, Noyola placed 22 arguments in the voter guide, collectively supporting of five propositions.

These include official arguments for two of his then-boss’s tax measures, as well as paid arguments for a variety of community and business groups, including the Sierra Club, Small Business Advocates and the National Trust for Historic Preservation — all groups with an interest in the vote on numerous Nov. 4 ballot initiatives.

Political process

Noyola currently works for a local political consultant, Jim Stearns, who has run campaigns for Peskin, District Attorney Kamala Harris and others.

“This is a highly bureaucratic and exacting process,” he said, “and every cycle, I’m stunned at how much effort it takes to get it right.”

What makes the process so difficult?

“You have to have signatures on all the right pieces of paper, and if you’re going to mention the name of an elected official or an organization that’s supporting or opposing a position, you have to get them to sign a piece of paper. And it all has to be on the same doubled-sided piece of paper. This is something a lot of people who are new to the political process may not know, and so they obviously benefit from having somebody around to walk them through it,” Noyola said.

Rebekah Krell, an aide to Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, said that work on the voter guide is “sort of a murky area.”

She described it as both an extension of the legislative process and a collaboration with political activists.

Outside City Hall, Krell engages in politics just like many of her colleagues. At a recent meeting of the San Francisco Young Democrats, she argued against Measure E, which would make it harder to kick local leaders out of office, and Measure F, which calls for fewer local elections. She also argued against those two ballot measures at the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club, where she serves on the board of directors.

But Krell tries to separate legislative and political activity as much as possible. One way to do that, she said, is by not submitting paid arguments in the voter guide.

Periodically, the city attorney’s office sends out a memo to remind city officers and employees about the rules affecting their political activity: It has to be on their own time and not using any city resources, said deputy city attorney Andrew Shen.

The penalties for breaking these rules can be severe, but Shen said that state and local laws provide a few exceptions.

One allows for work on official ballot statements in the voter guide. Shen said: “I can only speculate as to the intent of that provision, but I believe it’s generally intended to allow the voters to have some insight into what their elected officials think about the ballot measures they support or oppose.”

As for Noyola, he described his current campaign work as an extension of his recent legislative work for Peskin.

“He’s an activist legislator,” Noyola said of board president Peskin. “He ends up putting a lot of things on the ballot, a lot of things that both he and I care about, and I’m willing to spend my time outside City Hall on them.”

The San Francisco 2008 Election Truthiness Report is co-produced by Newsdesk.org and The Public Press, and funded through small donations using the Spot.Us “crowdfunding” Web site. Check the KALW-FM archives to hear their Sept. 30 conversation with reporter Matthew Hirsch on ballot-book brokering.

SIDEBAR:

Well connected

David Noyola submitted 22 ballot arguments for the upcoming voter information pamphlet. Each was submitted on behalf of public officials or special interests.

Official ballot statements:

Proponent’s argument in favor of Proposition J — Supervisor Aaron Peskin

Proponent’s argument in favor of Proposition N — Sierra Club

Proponent’s argument in favor of Proposition Q — Small Business Advocates

Rebuttal to opponent’s argument against Proposition N — Supervisor Aaron Peskin

Paid arguments:

Yes on J — National Trust for Historic Preservation, Western Office

Yes on N — San Francisco Democratic Party (6 arguments)

Yes on N — SPUR Voter Education Fund

Yes on O — San Francisco Fire Fighters PAC (4 arguments)

Yes on Q — San Francisco Democratic Party (6 arguments)

One thought on “The Business of Ballot Booklet Brokering

  1. The Truthiness Report

    The San Francisco 2008 Election Truthiness Report is co-produced by Newsdesk.org and The Public Press, and funded through small donations…