Ed ran. But he didn’t pay.
2011 was an up and down year for political consultant Enrique Pearce. He started off on a high note, after Jane Kim, whose campaign he ran as main consultant, was sworn in for her first term representing District 6 on the Board of Supervisors.
But then it was “Run Ed Run.” The former campaign manager for Matt Gonzalez ran the infamous campaign formed with the ostensible purpose of enticing interim Mayor Ed Lee to seek a full term in office.
Chaired by current District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague, the campaign was accused of ethics violations, of which it was ultimately cleared. Yet Lee and Lee’s supporters distanced themselves from that and Pearce’s subsequent campaign, the “SF Neighbor Alliance,” which was accused of filling in Chinatown voters’ ballots for them.
Following the allegations of impropriety, Pearce’s firm, Left Coast Communications, produced in October a campaign book about Ed Lee. Entitled “The Ed Lee Story,” the book’s 50,000 copy run cost $68,500 to produce, spawned a mocking followup produced by the Leland Yee campaign, and was mocked even by Lee’s official campaign spokesman.
Most of Pearce’s efforts in 2011 have paid off: he has close ties to two sitting supervisors, and is said to be close with Rose Pak, who Lee has repeatedly referred to as a friend (and who takes at least some credit for “convincing” Lee to run, so there’s that).
But the book didn’t pay off. Not so much. Pearce’s SF Neighbor Alliance is $68,500 in the red to Left Coast Communications, Pearce’s firm, part of the $111,500 total Left Coast is owed from the independent expenditure committee Pearce ran on Lee’s behalf, according to the most recent finance records on file at the Ethics Commission (you can read the entire document here).
Independent expenditure committees, remember, are not unlike the much-discussed SuperPACs in presidential committees: donors are not bound by contribution limits, and no “official” coordination between IEs and SuperPACs are allowed.
Nothing about any of this is illegal or unethical, mind — if a campaign can’t pay its debts, it can be sued in small claims court by its lenders, according to John. St. Croix, executive director of the Ethics Commission. Though it doesn’t seem likely Pearce would sue himself (though if he learned his law from Gonzalez, who knows).
A consulting firm with unpaid debts can report those expenditures as a “contribution in kind” to the candidate’s campaign committee, but in this case, the committee in arrears is not connected to a campaign.
Often, a campaign has an easier time collecting money following a victorious campaign, according to a former local political consultant. And Pearce was able to raise $15,700 in November following Lee’s win, mostly from property developers, construction firms, and restaurants.
The records are from the end of 2011, so it’s possible Pearce has raised $100,000 last month to pay them off. It’s anyone’s guess: Pearce did not respond to a telephone message or an email seeking comment.
Other consultants who worked on rival campaigns also declined to comment.
Campaign debts like these must be documented with receipts, contracts, or other proof that a transaction has been made, St. Croix said, which means the debt is very much real, and on the books somewhere.
But Pearce, who once described himself to us at “the hottest political consultant in town” following the victory of Lee in November, does have connected friends, and will likely run Olague’s reelection campaign in November.
So in that case, the book — which featured a method to concoct a ketchup-and-ground-beef “poongalong” Lee favored in law school — was a recipe for success. Albeit a costly one.