San Francisco voters created the Ethics Commission with a range of duties to help ensure the laws it administers and enforces are effective.
Under the San Francisco City Charter, the Ethics Commission has “responsibility for the impartial and effective administration and implementation of the provisions of this charter, statutes and ordinances concerning campaign finance, lobbying, conflicts of interest and governmental ethics.” As part of that responsibility, the Ethics Commission has the duty to recommend to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors laws related to those issues to help ensure the laws are effective.
Importantly, the Ethics Commission also has authority under the Charter to submit directly to San Francisco voters any ordinance that the Board of Supervisors has authority to pass relating to conflicts of interest, campaign finance, lobbying, campaign consultants or governmental ethics. A four-fifths vote of all members of the Ethics Commission is required to submit any measure directly to the voters. Once approved by the Commission, such measures are placed on the next general election ballot.
The Commission can also adopt rules and regulations related to campaign finance, ethics, lobbying, open meetings, and public records. In addition, the Commission regularly reports to the Mayor and Board on the effectiveness of the laws within its jurisdiction, and the Commission.
The Policy Division assists and advises the Commission in fulfilling these policy-related duties.
Current Policy Projects
The Ethics Commission’s policy discussions can be followed each month by accessing the Commission’s monthly meeting Agenda. Legislative and regulatory matters slated for discussion and action by the Commission are identified on the agenda, along with in-depth Staff reports that provide background, analysis, and policy recommendations.
To identify and prioritize the policy matters it plans to address, the Ethics Commission adopts a quarterly Policy Prioritization Plan. The quarterly Plan is designed to enable the Commission to carry out its policy agenda and provide focused attention on key programs and policies. The Policy Division’s monthly Policy Report, which is agendized at each Commission meeting, provides updates about the progress of each project that the Commission has initiated. The Plan and the monthly Policy Reports provide the Commission and the public with information about ongoing projects to help promote effective public engagement.
The Commission has identified the following projects as its current policy priorities:
Review of the City’s Public Campaign Financing System
In 2000, voters approved Proposition O to create a program of public campaign financing. The program is currently open to candidates running for mayor or supervisor. To qualify, candidates must meet all program requirements, including raising a minimum level of contributions from private contributors. Through an initial grant and subsequent matching funds, the City provides qualifying candidates with public money to be used for their campaigns.
The Commission determined that an in-depth, substantive review of this program was necessary to assess its performance and identify potential changes to strengthen the program’s impact. This review project was undertaken in two phases. The first phase examined administrative aspects of the program. This phase resulted in revisions to the regulations that affect public financing. These regulations went into effect in January. The first review phase also resulted in the Commission approving an ordinance that makes changes to how certain provisions of the program are administered. This ordinance was approved by the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor and is now in effect. Lastly, Staff revised the written resources that are available to Program participants to provide greater detail about the Program’s requirements.
The second phase of the review project evaluated more fundamental aspects of the program, including the amount of funds that participating candidates may receive. As part of this phase, the Commission approved an ordinance at its May meeting that seeks to deepen the program’s impact for participating candidates. Under the ordinance, the Program would match up to $150 of a qualified contribution at a six-to-one rate and would make greater amounts of funds available to candidates. The Ordinance is sponsored by Supervisor Gordon Mar and is currently pending before the Board of Supervisors as File No. 190660.
Review of Regulations Supporting the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code
The Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code establishes the City’s local statutes relating to campaign finance, government ethics, and lobbying. To clarify and interpret these statutes, the Commission creates regulations that provide necessary details and processes that the statutes do not specify. The Commission undertook a review of these supporting regulations to achieve three purposes:
- Provide greater detail about statutory provisions created by the Anti-Corruption and Accountability Ordinance;
- Update the regulations to follow any recent changes in the Code; and
- Provide greater guidance about various provisions of the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance (Article I, Chapter I of the Code).
At its May meeting, the Commission approved a set of amendments to the regulations. The amendments are currently on a 60-day hold at the Board of Supervisors before they can become operative.
Paid Online Political Communications
The Policy Division has also conducted research into the use of paid online political communications in City elections and developed a new web page to better inform the public about how such communications are funded. An increasingly large percentage of campaign spending is being done on online advertising, and such advertising may be seen by viewers who are not familiar with political advertisement disclaimers or financial reporting by political committees. The new web page is designed to be easily reachable by members of the public who wish to learn more about the political ads they see online and to provide the basic information the public needs in order to understand how those ads are funded.
All policy and legislative items the Ethics Commission considers can be followed via the Commission’s Agenda page. We invite you to receive regular updates about all issues considered by the Ethics Commission by visiting our Interested Persons page and subscribing to the Commission’s meeting notices and agendas.
Please contact Senior Policy Analyst Pat Ford at Patrick.Ford@sfgov.org for more information about policy initiatives.