Individuals and entities participating in political and governmental activities in San Francisco are subject to a number of state and local laws relating to campaigns, lobbying, conflicts of interest, and open government.

Providing assistance to those who are subject to these laws to heighten awareness and promote compliance is one of the primary duties of the San Francisco Ethics Commission. To support accountability in government through an informed public, the Commission also acts as a resource to the public to broadly advocate understanding of the City’s ethics laws and their purpose.

Publications and Guides

Guide BookThe Commission has developed a number of detailed guides for members of the public and City officers and employees that explain the laws it administers and enforces.

These materials generally address the following areas:

The Ethics Commission’s Engagement & Compliance Division is the point of primary contact for information and compliance guidance for all laws within the Commission’s jurisdiction. Staff are available to provide information and compliance guidance on public disclosure, filing, and other requirements to city officials and employees, candidates, lobbyists, and others. Filers who fail to file timely statements are subject to late fees.

Informal Advice and Opinions

Persons subject to the laws administered by the Commission may seek guidance from the Commission about how the City’s laws relating to ethics, campaign finance, or lobbying apply to them.

The Ethics Commission provides two kinds of guidance: informal advice and opinions. For both forms of guidance, the requester provides facts about specific circumstances they are facing and receives tailored analysis about how the law applies to those facts.

Informal advice is provided by Commission Staff and is provided over the phone or by email. More complex questions that require research may take longer to receive a response. If the requester, having disclosed all the material facts, receives advice from Staff and acts in accordance with the advice, that may serve as a mitigating circumstance in any subsequent enforcement proceeding with the potential to fully mitigate any penalties.

Opinions are given through a formal vote of the Ethics Commission at a public meeting. After the requester asks for an opinion of the Commission, Staff drafts a proposed opinion and agendizes it for a hearing at a subsequent Commission meeting. Once adopted by the Commission, an opinion provides the requester with immunity from subsequent enforcement if the material facts are as stated in the opinion request, the City Attorney and District Attorney concur in the opinion, and the requester acts in accordance with the opinion.

Both informal advice and opinions always address only the requester’s prospective actions – actions that are planned but that have not yet been taken. The Commission does not provide guidance regarding actions that have already been taken, actions of someone other than the requester (unless the requester is authorized to ask on another’s behalf), or hypothetical situations.

Past advice letters of the Ethics Commission are public records and can be viewed online. The Commission has adopted regulations to govern the provision of opinions and informal advice. For details regarding the process and requirements for requesting an opinion or informal advice, please review the regulations.

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