Jewish Journal


November 8, 2011

Cost to keep circumcision off ballot: $100K


Brit Milah

Brit Milah

In the very public fight over a ballot measure aiming to ban circumcision of underage males in San Francisco, the Jewish-led coalition that succeeded in keeping the practice legal in the city spent more than six times what the ban’s proponents did.

The Committee Opposing Forced Male Circumcision, which backed the ballot measure that ultimately was forced to be withdrawn, spent $14,000 on their efforts, according to the most recent filings with the San Francisco Ethics Commission, covering political activity through the end of September.

The same filings show the Committee for Parental Choice and Religious Freedom, the political action committee (PAC) quickly organized by the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to wage a fight against the ballot measure, spent nearly $99,000 on its efforts.

The sum is expected to rise, JCRC Associate Director Abby Michelson Porth said, because the PAC still must be officially terminated.

“The good news is it cost us a fraction of what it would have cost had the legal victory not occurred,” Porth said. A California Superior Court judge struck the measure from the ballot in July, saying it was preempted by an existing state law.

If that hadn’t happened, Porth said, the Jewish-led coalition would have had to run a full political campaign all the way up to the Nov. 8 election. “It would have cost upward of four times what we spent,” Porth said.

For their effort, the JCRC hired four separate political firms to run the campaign. Although the Ethics Commission filings included no mention of Morrison Foerster, a firm that worked pro bono on the legal challenge that successfully struck the measure from the ballot, they did reveal that early in the campaign, the JCRC-led coalition paid $36,000 to the polling firm Tulchin Research.

“We ran a political poll to gauge how San Francisco voters felt about this measure,” Porth said, “to understand what were the key messages and messengers that would influence San Francisco voters’ attitudes.”

The JCRC itself charged the PAC over $10,000 for employees’ salaries, including Porth, who spent time working to defeat the measure.

All donations of $100 or more made to a committee on either side of the ballot measure are listed in the documents obtained from the Ethics Commission. Supporters of the JCRC-led coalition were mostly individuals and organizations in the Bay Area; the largest individual contribution came in July from Roselyne Swig, a prominent Jewish San Francisco philanthropist, who donated $10,000. National Jewish groups helped as well, among them the Anti-Defamation League, which donated $25,000 to support beating back the ban.

The effort to ban circumcision, by contrast, appears in the Ethics Commission documents to have been mostly supported by in-kind, non-monetary contributions. Indeed, of the $14,000 spent by the Committee Opposing Forced Male Circumcision, $8,500 came from Richard Kurylo, who works in the operations unit of the San Francisco City Controller’s office, and his contributions are classified either as “Signature Gathering Expenses,” “Petition Circulators” or “photocopies/supplies.”

Many of the monetary donations to ban circumcision documented in the Ethics Commission filings came from prominent anti-circumcision activists. Kurylo personally gave $1,000; Lloyd Schofield, the ballot measure’s proponent, contributed $600; and Frank McGinness, the treasurer of the committee supporting the ballot measure, donated $1,600.

“It would’ve been nice to get more money to be able to do more,” Schofield said. “We did what we could with what we had.”

The very first itemized monetary donation to the campaign to ban circumcision in San Francisco was $150 from Matthew Hess, the San Diego-based anti-circumcision activist who authored the San Francisco ballot measure.

Hess contributed an additional $500 in March and was also the creator of the anti-circumcision comic book “Foreskin Man,” which was widely criticized by the Anti-Defamation League and others as anti-Semitic.

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