The Ethics Commission seeks to ensure that San Francisco’s ethics laws are strong, enforceable, and workable in practice. We study emerging trends in campaign finance, conflicts of interest, lobbying and other areas that impact the accountability and transparency of City government. We use what we learn to improve the City’s ethics laws and to refine our department’s programs. This work is vital to guaranteeing robust and informed laws in an ever-changing City.
The Commission’s policy work produces research, legislative recommendations, regulations, program concepts, and public-facing communications that seek to inform and strengthen the City’s pursuit of clean government. Based on this work, the five-member Commission regularly approves new ordinances and regulations. The Commission also has authority under the Charter to submit ballot measures directly to San Francisco voters.
The Policy Division leads the Commission’s policy projects and is responsible for the research, analysis, and community engagement that makes up the core of the Commission’s policy work.
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 Policy Prioritization Plan. The Plan is designed to enable the Commission to carry out its policy agenda and provide focused attention on key programs and policies. The Staff Policy Report provides updates about the progress of each project that is under way. The Plan and the Policy Reports provide the Commission and the public with information about ongoing projects to help promote effective public engagement.
Presently, the following policy projects are in progress:
Review of the City’s Conflict of Interest Laws
At its September 9, 2020 meeting, the Commission identified a review of the City’s conflict-of-interest rules as a policy priority. This project is essential in light of the ongoing investigations into alleged corrupt activity by City officials and contractors.
- In January 2020, the FBI announced a federal corruption case against Mohammed Nuru, then the Director of the Department of Public Works, and Nick Bovis, a local businessman. The pair were charged with fraud for multiple alleged schemes to rig City contracts, including a scheme to bribe an Airport commissioner.
- On March 10th, the City Attorney sent a report to the Mayor detailing allegations that the Director of the Department of Building Inspection, Tom Hui, also violated state and local ethics laws. Hui subsequently resigned.
- On June 8th, the FBI charged Sandra Zuniga, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, with conspiracy to commit money laundering for allegedly helping Nuru launder bribes.
- On June 8th, the FBI also charged two City contractors, Balmore Hernandez and Florence Kong, with fraud and bribery, respectively, for allegedly attempting to bribe Nuru for favorable treatment on City contracting awards. Both have agreed to plead guilty, and Hernandez is cooperating with the federal investigation.
- On June 24th, Walter Wong, a permit expediter, was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering for his involvement with Nuru. Wong agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the federal investigation.
- On September 17th, Alan Varela and William Gilmartin III were charged with bribery for their alleged attempts to secure City contracts by making gifts to Nuru.
- On November 18th, Paul Giusti, former Government & Community Relations Manager for Recology’s San Francisco Group, was charged with bribery and money laundering for his alleged attempt to secure favorable treatment for Recology by bribing Nuru.
- On November 30th, Harlan Kelly, then-general manager of the Public Utilities Commission, was charged with fraud for allegedly taking bribes. Kelly subsequently resigned his position.
If true, the allegations against these individuals demonstrate an alarming level of unethical conduct in and around City government and its decision-making processes. The project will seek to learn from the findings of the various investigations and identify improvements to ethics laws and programs to prevent future instances of corruption.
Staff is undertaking the project in multiple phases. The first phase focusses on behested payments, which are payments made by someone at the request of a public official or employee, usually to a nonprofit organization. Staff’s findings and recommendations for this phase of the project are set forth in the staff report presented at the Commission’s November 13th meeting. Following the presentation of the report, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend legislation prohibiting City officials and employees from soliciting behested payments from persons with business before their respective departments. Staff is currently seeking approval of this legislation by the Board of Supervisors.
After Phase I of the project is complete, Staff will initiate a second phase of the project, which will focus on gift rules. State and local law restricts gifts made to City officials and employees. The ongoing corruption investigations have brought to light potential issues with these gift laws. Staff will follow the same process as Phase I: Staff will initiate interested persons meetings to seek guidance and feedback from stakeholders, conduct research into ethical issues involved with gifts, and draft a report containing findings and recommendations.
Subject to future developments in the corruption investigations, including further criminal charges against City officials and contractors and additional reports issued by the Controller’s office, Staff will initiate further phases of the project as appropriate.
All policy and legislative items the Ethics Commission considers can be followed via the Commission’s Agenda page.
We also 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. By signing up to receive notices, you will be notified whenever the Policy Division holds an interested persons meeting to solicit ideas and feedback during the policy projects described above.
Please contact Senior Policy and Legislative Affairs Counsel Pat Ford at Patrick.Ford@sfgov.org for more information about policy projects.