March 22, 2000
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 Section 16.509 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.
Because you seek advice regarding specific actions which you, or your clients, might take in the future, the Commission is treating your question as a request for a formal opinion.
Does Section 16.509 of the CFRO, which limits contributions to candidates in a "municipal" run-off election, apply to candidates for the Board of Supervisors running in a "district" run-off election under Section 13.102 of the City Charter?
Yes. The contribution limits set forth in Section 16.509 of the CFRO apply to candidates for the Board of Supervisors running in a "district" run-off election.
The CFRO limits the amount of money an individual or entity may contribute to a candidate for local elective office. For the general election, the contribution limit is $500. The contribution limit for "municipal" run-off elections is $250. S.F. Admin. Code Sections 16.508(b) and 16.509(b).
Until recently, candidates for the Board of Supervisors were selected in Citywide general elections. The candidates who received the highest number of votes in the general election were elected. There were no run-off elections. In 1996, the voters amended the City Charter to provide for district elections for candidates for the Board of Supervisors. (See Proposition G, adopted on November 5, 1996.) Beginning in November 2000, Supervisors will be elected by district, rather than Citywide. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast within a district in the general election, a district run-off election is required. Charter Section 13.102.
The contribution limits imposed by the CFRO were adopted prior to the 1996 Charter amendment. Specifically, the limit on contributions for run-off elections was adopted when the only run-off elections were Citywide elections, as opposed to run-off elections only held in a district. For this reason, you have inquired whether the CFRO’s limit on contributions for "municipal" elections applies to run-off elections that are held in a district.
We conclude that the contribution limit applies to all run-off elections for two reasons. First, the term "municipal" election refers to all elections held in the City and County of San Francisco, as opposed to "statewide" elections, which are elections that are held throughout the state. Municipal elections include primary, general, special and run-off elections, regardless of whether the election is conducted by district or Citywide. Indeed, Charter Section 13.102 is entitled "Municipal Run-Off Elections," even though it governs both Citywide and district run-off elections, run-off elections that are held in December following a November general election, and run-off elections that are held in November following a June primary election.
Second, the intent of the CFRO was to limit contributions in all elections in which the voters will elect a candidate to local office. We do not believe it was the intent of the CFRO to allow for unlimited contributions under any circumstances. For this reason, we conclude that the contribution limit imposed by Section 16.509 applies to district run-off elections, as well to Citywide elections.
I hope that you find this letter responsive to your inquiry. If you have additional questions, please contact me at (415) 554-9510.
cc: City Attorney Louise H. Renne
District Attorney Terence Hallinan