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 also regularly reports to the Mayor and Board on the effectiveness of the laws within its jurisdiction, and the Commission can adopt rules and regulations related to campaign finance, ethics, lobbying, open meetings, and public records.
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.
At its June 15, 2018 regular meeting, the Commission 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 has determined that an in-depth, substantive review of this program is necessary to assess its performance and identify potential changes to strengthen the program’s impact. The Policy Division is currently engaged in reviewing the program. This review project is being 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 is currently pending before the Board of Supervisors.
The second phase of the review project is ongoing. This phase will evaluate more fundamental aspects of the program, including the qualification requirements and the funds that participating candidates may receive. Public engagement in the review process is vital, and the Division will host two interested persons meetings to solicit public feedback about the program. View the meeting announcement for location, resources, and additional information. Participants are strongly encouraged to view Staff’s presentation at the July Commission meeting (agenda item 7) on the public financing program and to review the Supplemental Guide for Board of Supervisors Candidates Seeking Public Financing. The public financing presentation file can be accessed here. These resources provide important background about the program. Apart from the interested persons meetings, the Policy Division will also contact former candidates and their treasurers to solicit feedback about the program.
Review of Regulations Supporting the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance
The Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance (Article I, Chapter I of the City’s Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code) establishes the City’s local statutes relating to campaign finance. To clarify and interpret these statutes, the Commission created a set of regulations that provide necessary details and processes that the statutes do not specify.
The Commission has decided to undertake a review of these supporting regulations and has directed the Policy Division to conduct a substantive review and to propose any amendments that are needed. This review is in progress, and the Division will likely propose amendments to the regulations following that process. These amendments will, among other things, seek to update the regulations to follow any recent changes in the Code, including those created by the Anti-Corruption and Accountability Ordinance. Public input on the regulations is encouraged.
Paid Online Political Communications
The Commission also directed the Policy Division to conduct research into the use of paid online political communications in City elections and to potentially recommend legislative action to the Commission. An increasingly large percentage of campaign spending is being done on online advertising. The Commission desires to ensure that City law is adequately adapting to changes in political messaging, especially the prevalent use of online communications. Staff is conducting a review of City campaign finance laws that are affected by changes in online technology and may offer legislative recommendations. Public input on this process is encouraged.
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 Agenda.
Please contact Pat Ford at Patrick.Ford@sfgov.org for more information about policy initiatives.