money.jpgBad Year for Progressives, Very Good Year for Progressive Consultant

These are dark days for San Francisco’s progressive movement, or so the narrative goes. That might be true — depends on where you stand — but any way the $3 latte is poured, these aren’t dark days for San Francisco’s best-known and most-used progressive political consultant. For Jim Stearns, 2010 was a killer.

Stearns has made a career out of furthering the careers of Kamala Harris, Leland Yee and David Chiu. In calendar year 2010, his eponymous firm Stearns Consulting took in over $2 million in payments from political campaigns, state and local records show.

In the most recent local consultant activity reports filed Wednesday, Stearns reported $1.5 million worth of payments in the fourth quarter of 2010 alone, almost five times the $388,000 reported by second-place Jim Ross Political Consulting.

Much of Stearns’s haul came from labor, which spent massively to defeat pension reform measure Proposition B. Just over $1 million went through Stearns’s operation to the No on B campaign, records show.

This is not to say that, somewhere, Stearns or anyone else is sitting on $2 million. Running a campaign is expensive, and one of Stearns’s specialties — direct mail — is particularly expensive. Much of what Stearns took in went straight to the United States Postal Service, but it’s also not as if Stearns’s people — which includes David Noyola, a former City Hall aide to David Chiu and Aaron Peskin, and Kevin Yee, the son of longtime Stearns client and mayoral contender Leland Yee — are subsisting on off-brand cereal for dinner (like some people we are know).

Nobody from Stearns Consulting would speak on the record, but it’s a generally-accepted industrywide standard that between 15 and 20 percent of what a consultant is paid stays “in-house” — to pay people, keep the lights on, etc.

“That’s a good amount — that’s a lot of money,” said former supervisor Chris Daly, who worked with Stearns “a few times” during his political career. “It was a big year for [Stearns].”

More interesting than the heaps of cash thrown Stearns’s way by labor are the heaps of cash Yee threw Stearns’s way. Yee faced no serious opposition in seeking a second term in the Senate in November, and won 80 percent of the vote. Yet he spent lavishly nonetheless, and spent on Stearns. In 2010, Stearns received $215,000 in “consulting fees” from Yee’s campaign alone, a figure that does not count the $283,000 spent on mailers and ads on TV and radio.

“That’s a little weird,” said another local political consultant, who did not wish to be named. “I wonder if we’re going to see that money shifted over to (Yee’s) mayoral race. There’s nothing illegal about that, mind you — it would just be kind of weird.”

Weird or no, 2010 was certainly kind to “one of the few political consultants who’s used and trusted by the progressive side,” as Daly put it.

With elections for District Attorney, mayor of San Francisco in November and almost certainly a measure to change district elections also on the way, 2011 could be pretty sweet, too.

(And should Stearns wish to really reach an Internet-based audience, we humbly suggest he buy an ad or seventy on The Appeal).

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