Ethics Commission
City and County of San Francisco

Fact Sheet for Non-Candidates Regarding Recent Changes to San Francisco’s Campaign Finance Ordinance Now Effective July 25, 2015

(Print Copy)

In June 2015, the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor approved numerous amendments to the City’s Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance (“CFRO”), found at San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code section 1.100 et seq.  In addition to repealing certain contribution limits, these amendments updated and streamlined CFRO’s reporting and disclaimer requirements. The amendments took effect July 25, 2015.

This Fact Sheet provides a summary of the CFRO changes most relevant to non-candidates participating in City campaigns. A separate Fact Sheet addresses the changes most relevant to City candidates.

Repealed Contribution Limits (Section 1.114)

The recent CFRO amendments repealed two contribution limits that the Ethics Commission was not enforcing given recent case law. The first was the aggregate limit on contributions to City candidates in a given City election.  The second was the limit on contributions to committees making independent expenditures to support or oppose a City candidate.

General Purpose Committee Pre-Election Reports (Section 1.135)

Pursuant to the CFRO amendments, a San Francisco general purpose committee must continue to file pre-election reports if it makes payments of $500 or more in the applicable pre-election period, but not if its only payments are for costs related to the establishment and administration of that committee.  The excluded costs include those for legal and accounting fees and other expenses incurred in setting up and running a sponsored committee.

Reports Required for Third-Party Communications (Sections 1.161, 1.162 & 1.163)

The CFRO amendments consolidated reporting requirements for communications by committees not controlled by candidates and by other third parties into three categories. Third-parties no longer have to file “mass mailing” reports, “persuasion poll” reports, or “$5,000 reports.” (However, note that to the extent mass mailings or persuasion polls qualify as either electioneering communications or independent expenditures, reporting is required as set forth below.)

In general, committees, companies, individuals and other third-parties paying for communications concerning candidates in City elections during the 90 days prior to that election must file reports if the per candidate expenditure is $1,000 or more. Communications triggering these reporting requirements are independent expenditures, electioneering communications, and member communications.

1. Independent Expenditure Reporting (FPPC Form 496)

Independent expenditures are payments for communications that “expressly advocate” the election or defeat of a candidate. Third-parties must continue to comply with state law requirements which impose 24-hour reporting obligations for all independent expenditures of $1,000 or more made within the 90 days prior to an election. (Cal. Govt. Code § 84204.) Third-parties report these expenditures for or against City candidates by filing an FPPC Form 496 electronically with the Ethics Commission.

Importantly, under the CFRO amendments, a legible copy of anyindependent expenditure concerning City candidates– including mass mailings, billboards, TV and radio ads, etc. – must now accompany any Form 496 filed with the Ethics Commission.  Independent expenditures conveyed by telephone call, or through audio or video ads must include a copy of the script and a recording of the message itself.

These copies of independent expenditures should be submitted to the Commission by email (ethics.commission@sfgov.org). If a communication is an independent expenditure for or against more than one candidate, only one copy of the communication must be submitted. The forwarding email should reference the report number(s) of the filed Form 496 and the name of the filer.

2. Electioneering Communications Reporting (SFEC Form 162)

The CFRO amendments make changes to the reporting requirements for “electioneering communications.”

Definitions

An “electioneering communication” is any communication (e.g., a mailing) that refers to a clearly identified City candidate and is distributed within 90 days prior to an election for the City office sought by the candidate. To qualify as an electioneering communication, the communication must be sent or made available to 500 or more individuals who are registered to vote or eligible to register to vote in the election for the City candidate identified in the communication. There is a rebuttable presumption that any broadcast, cable, satellite, or radio communication and any sign, billboard or printed advertisement is distributed to 500 or more such individuals.

“Electioneering communications” do not include:

  • communications that constitute independent expenditures or expenditures by a candidate committee for the candidate’s election;
  • communications made by a slate mailer organization;
  • communications paid for by the City or any other local, State or Federal government agency;
  • non-recorded communications between two or more individuals in direct conversation unless such communications are made by telephone and at least one of the individuals is compensated for the purposes of making the telephone communication;
  • communications that appear on bumper stickers, pins, stickers, hat bands, badges, ribbons and other similar memorabilia;
  • news stories, commentaries or editorials distributed through any newspaper, radio station, television station, or other recognized news medium unless such news medium is owned or controlled by any political party, political committee or candidate;
  • member communications (see below);
  • communications that occur during a candidate debate or forum;
  • communications made solely to promote a candidate debate or forum made by or on behalf of the person sponsoring the debate or forum, provided that such communications do not otherwise discuss the positions or experience of a candidate for City elective office or a City elective officer who is the subject of a recall election; and
  • invitations sent by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization for its own fundraising event.

Reporting Requirements

Under the CFRO amendments, payments for electioneering communications must be reported on an SFEC Form 162 during the 90 days prior to a City election if the cost of the communication attributable to any one City candidate referenced in the communication is $1,000 or more.

The Form 162 requires the filer to disclose:

  • the full name, street address, city, state and zip code of the person making payments for electioneering communications;
  • the name of any individual sharing or exercising direction and control over the person making payments for electioneering communications;
  • the distribution date of the electioneering communication;
  • the name(s) and office(s) of the referenced City candidate(s);
  • the payments for the communication attributable to each candidate;
  • a brief description of the electioneering communication;
  • whether the communication supports, opposes, or is neutral with respect to each candidate;
  • the total amount of reportable payments by the filer for electioneering communications referencing each candidate during the calendar year; and
  • payments of $100 or more received from others and used for making electioneering communications, as well as:
  • the date(s) those payments were received;
  • the name, address, occupation, and employer of the donor; and
  • the cumulative amount of payments received from that person during the calendar year which were used for making electioneering communication.

The Form 162 must be filed by email (ethics.commission@sfgov.org) or personal delivery within 24 hours of making the electioneering communication(s). Also, a copy of any reported electioneering communication – including mass mailings, billboards, TV and radio ads, etc. – must accompany a Form 162 filed with the Ethics Commission. Electioneering communications made by telephone call, or audio or video ads must include a copy of the script and a recording of the communication itself.

3. Member Communications Reporting (SFEC Form 163)

The CFRO amendments make changes to the reporting requirements for “member communications.”

Definitions

A “member communication” is any communication (e.g., a mailing) that is published, disseminated or communicated to an organization’s members, employees, or shareholders, or to the families of the organization’s members, employees or shareholders that supports or opposes a City candidate or City ballot measure. Excluded from this definition is any general public advertising such as broadcasting, billboards, and newspaper advertisements.

The definition of a “member” is set forth in FPPC regulation 18531.7.

Reporting Requirements

Under the CFRO amendments, payments for member communications must be reported on an SFEC Form 163 during the 90 days prior to a City election if the cost of the communication attributable to any one City candidate supported or opposed in the communication is $1,000 or more.

The Form 163 requires the filer to disclose:

  • the full name, street address, city, state and zip code of the person making payments for member communications;
  • the name of any individual sharing or exercising direction and control over the person making payments for member communications;
  • the distribution date of the member communication;
  • the name(s) and office(s) of the referenced City candidate(s);
  • the payments for the communication attributable to each candidate;
  • a brief description of the member communication;
  • whether the communication supports or opposes each candidate;
  • and the total amount of reportable payments by the filer for member communications referencing each candidate during the calendar year.

The Form 163 must be filed by email (ethics.commission@sfgov.org) or personal delivery within 24 hours of making the member communication(s). Also, a copy of any reported member communication must accompany a Form 163 filed with the Ethics Commission. Member communications made by telephone call, or audio or video ads must include a copy of the script and a recording of the communication itself.

Third-Party Disclaimer Requirements (Sections 1.161, 1.162 & 1.163)

CFRO imposes “disclaimer” requirements for on campaign advertising, including campaign mailers, radio and television ads, telephone, robocalls, and electronic media ads by non-candidates.

Recent changes to these disclaimer rules are meant to incorporate and supplement the requirements of California’s Political Reform Act. “Paid for by(name)” remains the basic disclaimer required on most campaign communications, but additional requirements do apply.

The new rules are summarized below.

1. Electioneering Communications.

Electioneering communications must include two disclaimers:

  • “Paid for by ________ (insert the name of the person who paid for the communication),” and
  • “Financial disclosures are available at sfethics.org.”

The disclaimers must ordinarily appear or be included in a size, speed or format that complies with the state’s disclaimer requirements for independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates.

Disclaimers appearing on mass mailings, door hangers, flyers, posters, oversized campaign buttons or bumper stickers, or in print advertisements must be printed in at least 12-point font.

The above disclaimer requirements are triggered when electioneering communications must be reported to the Ethics Commission (i.e., the amount spent per candidate is $1,000 or more).

A chart setting forth the specific disclaimer rules for electioneering communications may be found here.

2. Independent Expenditures on City Candidates.

Persons making independent expenditures supporting or opposing City candidates must comply with the state’s disclaimer law requirements, but also:

  • Disclaimers appearing on mass mailings, door hangers, flyers, posters, oversized campaign buttons or bumper stickers, or in print advertisements must be printed in at least 12-point font.
  • Disclaimers must include the following statement: “Financial disclosures are available at sfethics.org.”
  • Disclaimers for primarily formed independent expenditure committees must disclose a committee’s top two major contributors of $20,000 or more.

A chart setting forth the specific disclaimer rules for independent expenditures on City candidates may be found here.

3. City Ballot Measure Ads.

Persons paying for advertisements that support or oppose City ballot measures must comply with the state’s disclaimer law requirements, but also:

  • Disclaimers appearing on mass mailings, door hangers, flyers, posters, oversized campaign buttons or bumper stickers, or in print advertisements must be printed in at least 12-point font.
  • Disclaimers must include the following statement: “Financial disclosures are available at sfethics.org.”
  • Disclaimers for primarily formed ballot measure committees must disclose a committee’s top two major contributors of $20,000 or more.

Charts setting forth the specific disclaimer rules for primarily formed ballot measure committees and for others supporting or opposing City measures may be found here and here.

This Fact Sheet was prepared by the San Francisco Ethics Commission (SFEC).  The guidance in this Fact Sheet is necessarily general. Refer to the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance and its implementing regulations regarding your specific situation.  In case of a conflict between this Fact Sheet and the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance or its implementing regulations, the Ordinance and/or those regulations prevail.

For more information about CFRO and the recent amendments, visit the SFEC’s website: www.sfethics.org or call (415) 252-3100.

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