Ethics Commission
City and County of San Francisco

Advice Letter – March 10, 2000 – Supervisor Tom Ammiano – Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance

March 10, 2000

Tom Ammiano
President, San Francisco Board of Supervisors
Tom Ammiano for Mayor Committee
125 Upper Terrace
San Francisco, CA 94117

Dear President Ammiano:

You requested a formal opinion from the Ethics Commission regarding the interpretation of Section 16.510 of the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance ("CFRO"), San Francisco Administrative Code Section 16.501, et seq.

Under Section C3.699-12 of the San Francisco Charter, the Ethics Commission has specific authority to provide two kinds of advice: written formal opinions or informal advice. Written formal opinions are available to individuals who request advice about their responsibilities under local laws. Formal opinions provide the requester immunity from subsequent administrative, civil and criminal enforcement action if the material facts are as stated in the request for advice and both the City Attorney and District Attorney concur with the Ethics Commission’s opinion. Id. Informal advice does not provide similar protection. Id.

Question

May my candidate committee use unexpended campaign funds to make a contribution to a state ballot measure committee?

Answer

No. The CFRO prohibits local candidate committees from using unexpended campaign funds to make contributions to state ballot measure committees.

Discussion

Section 16.510 of the CFRO addresses the question of how candidates may spend unexpended funds after an election. Section 16.510 provides:

Unexpended contributions held by a candidate after the date of the election in which said candidate appeared on the ballot may be returned on a pro rata basis to those persons who have made said contributions, donated to a charitable organization, donated to the General Fund of the City and County of San Francisco, or as contributions to a candidate or a committee acting on behalf of a candidate, transferred to any legally constituted committee established by or on behalf of the candidate, pursuant to the provisions of Government Code of the State of California (commencing at Section 81000).

(Emphasis added.)

By its own terms, Section 16.510 limits the ability of candidates to dispose of unexpended contributions. Although candidates may transfer funds to another committee, it must be a committee of the same candidate, and the transfer is subject to the contributions limits imposed by the CFRO. This means that a candidate may not contribute unused funds to another candidate or to a local or state ballot measure.

I hope that you find this letter responsive to your inquiry. If you have additional questions, please contact me at (415) 554-9510.

Sincerely,

Ginny Vida
Executive Director

cc: City Attorney Louise H. Renne
District Attorney Terence Hallinan

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