"Trumpian" effort to recall San Francisco's progressive district attorney bankrolled by GOP money

The effort to recall San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has in large part been led by William Oberndorf

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer
Published June 7, 2022 5:45AM (EDT)
Updated June 7, 2022 10:24AM (EDT)
Chesa Boudin speaks during a news conference on May 10, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Chesa Boudin speaks during a news conference on May 10, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco's progressive public defender-turned-District Attorney, elected to office just ahead of nationwide demands for police accountability and criminal justice reform, is facing a stiff recall effort largely bankrolled by a few billionaires. 

The effort to recall San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has in large part been led by William Oberndorf, a shadowy big money Republican who has spent at least $900,000 to remove Boudin from office, according to SFGate. To that end, Oberndorf's primary pass-through entity is Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, a super PAC responsible for putting up roughly two-thirds of the money dedicated to ousting Boudin. In total, about $6 million dollars has been poured from various sources into the effort, according to Mission Local

"I think it's pretty clear that the recall is being driven by a dark money PAC that itself is funded by a handful of ultra-wealthy individuals," Julie Edwards, campaign manager for the effort to keep Boudin in office, told The San Francisco Examiner. 

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Oberndorf is joined by Ron Conway, a billionaire venture capitalist who has repeatedly argued that San Francisco is being overrun by crime. The city, however, is currently seeing record lows in violent and property crimes as compared to previous decades, as The San Francisco Chronicle reported. As the Washington Post notes, violent crime "remains at some of the lowest levels it has been in four decades" in San Francisco.

"The recall is coming after me because we're not limiting our prosecution to poor people of color," Boudin told In These Times. ​"We're also holding those in power accountable: operations that systematically steal from their employees, police officers who use excessive force, corrupt politicians and government appointees, manufacturers of ghost guns. That non-traditional, proactive approach to public safety and equal enforcement of the law is exactly why I've been targeted for a recall."

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Oberndorf's opposition to Boudin stems largely from the attorney's pledge to enforce progressive policies on policing, incarceration, and immigration.

In a February interview with The New York Times, Boudin accused Oberndorf of withholding support from his 2019 campaign because the then-candidate refused to rescind San Francisco's sanctuary city policy, which restricts the city's capacity to cooperate with federal immigration law. (Oberndorf, for his part, has denied this allegation.)

Boudin has also accused Oberndorf of being an "oligarch" and has tarred his opponents as "Trumpian."

"It's really problematic that we are having a very Trumpian conversation in San Francisco," Boudin told the Times.

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Over the past several decades, Oberndorf has been a major donor to numerous Republicans lawmakers and political action committees, as SFGate reported. Among them are 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney ($50,000); the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund, ($750,000); the Republican Senate Leadership Fund of Sen. Minority Leader McConnell, R-Ky. ($850,000); and the Our Principles PAC, an anti-Trump GOP group. 

Apart from donating to Our Principles, Oberndorf also threw his weight behind former 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton Trump over Donald Trump. "If it is Trump vs. Clinton, and there is no viable third party candidate, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton," he told CNN shortly after Trump was declared the GOP nominee. At the time, he also donated $50,000 to a pro-Clinton PAC. 

According to SFGate, one of Oberndorf's key policy items is school privatization. He is the chair of the American Federation for Children, a right-wing dark money group that seeks to undermine teachers unions, and at one point backed a ballot proposition that would have banned teachers unions outright.

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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Criminal Justice Reform Dark Money Deep Dive Elections 2022 San Francisco William Oberndorf