Ethics Commission
City and County of San Francisco

Advice Letter – August 16, 1999 – James R. Sutton, Esq. – Campaign Consultant Ordinance

August 16, 1999

James R. Sutton
Nielsen, Merksamer, et al.
591 Redwood Highway, #4000
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Dear Mr. Sutton:

You requested the Ethics Commission’s interpretation of the San Francisco Regulation of Campaign Consultants Ordinance ("the Ordinance"), San Francisco Administrative Code Sections 16.540-16.547.

The Ethics Commission provides two kinds of advice: written formal opinions or informal advice. S.F. Charter Section C3.699-12. Written formal opinions are available to individuals who request advice about their responsibilities under local laws. Formal opinions provide the requester immunity from subsequent enforcement action if the material facts are as stated in the request for advice. Id. Informal advice does not provide similar protection. Id.

Because you seek advice regarding specific actions which you, or your clients, may take in the future, the Commission is treating your question as a request for a formal opinion.

Question

Is a person who provides campaign consulting services exclusively to corporations, nonprofit organizations, or general purpose PACs subject to the registration and reporting requirements of the Campaign Consultant Ordinance?

Answer

Whether a person qualifies as a "campaign consultant," and is therefore subject to the registration and reporting requirements of the Ordinance, depends on the nature and quantity of the services provided to clients, rather than the identity of the clients. A person who receives or is promised $1,000 or more in a calendar year in exchange for "campaign consulting services" is subject to the Ordinance even if the services are provided to corporations, nonprofit organizations and general purpose political committees.

Discussion

1. Qualification as a Campaign Consultant.

Under the Ordinance, a "campaign consultant" is a person or entity that receives or is promised $1,000 or more in a calendar year in exchange for "campaign consulting services." The term campaign consulting services is defined to include participation in "campaign management" (conducting, coordinating or supervising a campaign to elect, defeat, retain or recall a local candidate, or adopt or defeat a local ballot measure) and development or participation in "campaign strategy" (planning for the election, defeat, retention or recall of a local candidate, or for the adoption or defeat of a local ballot measure). S.F. Admin. Code Sections 16.541(a), (c), (d).

Whether a person qualifies as a "campaign consultant," and is therefore subject to the registration and reporting requirements of the Ordinance, depends on the nature and quantity of the services provided to clients, rather than the identity of the clients. For this reason, if a corporation, nonprofit organization, or general purpose political committee hires a person to conduct, coordinate, supervise, plan, or otherwise participate in a campaign to elect, defeat, retain or recall a local candidate, or adopt or reject a local ballot measure, and pays or promises to pay the person $1,000 or more in a calendar year in exchange for these services, the person qualifies as a campaign consultant under the Ordinance. A person need not work for a local candidate or ballot measure committee to qualify as a campaign consultant under the Ordinance.

2. Reporting Information about Clients.

Upon qualification, the campaign consultant is required to register with the Ethics Commission and comply with the applicable reporting requirements. The consultant is required to identify each client to whom the consultant provided campaign consulting services during the preceding three months, and report certain payments received from or promised by those clients in exchange for campaign consulting services. S.F. Admin. Code Sections 16.543(a)(6), (7). In addition, the consultant must submit to the Ethics Commission a written authorization from each client that contracts with the consultant for campaign consulting services. S.F. Admin. Code Section 16.543(d). Thereafter, the consultant is required to file quarterly reports disclosing certain payments received from or promised by clients in exchange for campaign consulting services. S.F. Admin. Code Section 16.543(e)(1).

In your letter, you note that the Ordinance does not define the term "client," and you assert that only local candidates and ballot measure committees are clients for purposes of the reporting requirements mentioned above. Your assertion is incorrect. For purposes of the Ordinance, a "client" is any person or entity (including corporations, nonprofit organizations, and general purpose political committees) to whom the campaign consultant provides campaign consulting services.

I hope you find this letter responsive to your inquiry. Please contact me at (415) 554-9510 if you have any additional questions.

Sincerely,

Ginny Vida
Executive Director

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