SAN FRANCISCO – A San Francisco State University professor considering a run for Oakland mayor is drawing scrutiny for a class assignment that asked students to create a political campaign ad and gave them the option of developing it for him.
Joe Tuman said he would use the ad if it were good, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Thursday. But ethics experts said any such use of the students' work could run afoul of the law.
"It looks like it's coercion to help him design a campaign strategy, to help him develop ideas," said Bob Stern, co-author of the California Political Reform Act of 1974.
Providing services to a candidate is considered a political donation under the state's political contribution laws, the Chronicle reported.
Hypothetically, a state university professor thinking about a run for mayor and who asks his students to create a campaign ad for his benefit "would be in some ways forcing a contribution to himself," said Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
The agency plans to review the matter to see whether an investigation is warranted, according to Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement for the commission.
Tuman told the Chronicle he was being sarcastic when he said he might use the students' ads and has no intention of doing so. He has not yet decided whether he will run for mayor next year. Tuman finished in fourth place in the 2010 Oakland mayoral race.
"I said it with a smile," he said. "Why would I use their product to run a campaign, really? If you're going to run a campaign, you're going to ask professionals."
School officials said the assignment does not appear to violate their policies. It was due on Thursday.