Ethics Commission
City and County of San Francisco

Annual Report – 1996

Annual Report
July 1995 – June 1996


The Ethics Commission is pleased to provide this report to the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors, which outlines the Commission's progress and accomplishments in this, its first year of fully-staffed operation. The Commission also recognizes its duty, pursuant to Charter section 3.699-11, to provide its recommendations concerning enforcement and administration of city ordinances and laws related to campaign finance, lobbying, conflict of interest and other mandates under its jurisdiction. Such recommendations are currently being formulated and considered by the Commission, and will be provided as soon as completed.

A. Background

The Ethics Commission was created by a Charter Amendment sponsored by Kevin Shelley, President of the Board of Supervisors, and approved by the voters on November 2, 1993. The Amendment has been incorporated as Sections 3.699-6 through 3.699-16. Under the Charter, the Commission serves the public, city employees, elected and appointed officials, and candidates for public office through education and enforcement of ethics laws. The Commission also provides open and consolidated access to public records in ethics-related matters. Its duties include: filing and auditing of campaign finance disclosure statements, lobbyist registration and regulation, administration of the Whistleblower program, conflict of interest reporting, investigations and enforcement, education and training, advice giving and statistical reporting.

The Commission is composed of five members, one each appointed by the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the Controller, the City Attorney and the District Attorney. The original members of the Commission were sworn in on June 6, 1994, and the Commission opened its office on a limited basis, in August, 1994. There have been a number of changes in the Commission membership since its inception. The current Chair, Virginia C. Gee, is the only remaining member of the original group of appointees to the Commission. At present, the membership is complete. However, the Commissioner appointed by the Controller will be leaving at the end of his term, June 30, 1996. The Commission meets regularly on the second Monday of each month at 3:00 p.m. in room 227, 1390 Market Street, San Francisco, and holds additional special meetings, as necessary.

In fiscal year 1994-1995, the Commission absorbed a 10% cut in its initial funding proposal, and was budgeted at $157,000. This was increased to $261,048 for fiscal year 1995-1996. For fiscal year 1996-1997, the Commission has been budgeted to maintain the same levels of staffing and operating expenses as in the previous year. Adjustments were made for salary step and fringe increases. Additionally, $25,000 has been allocated to the Controller's Information Services Division (ISD) to acquire necessary hardware and software to develop and maintain an Internet site for public access to campaign finance reports and other data filed with the Ethics Commission. The aggregate budget for the Ethics Commission for fiscal year 1996-1997 is $311, 066.

Between June 1994 and May 15, 1995, the Commission was staffed by interim or part-time staff and volunteers. The executive director began in May 1995, and the hiring of all budgeted permanent staff was completed in the Spring and Summer of 1995. Currently, there are 4 staff members, consisting of the executive director, an administrative assistant, a whistleblower/educator, and an investigator/auditor. The Commission has also utilized pro bono consultant and professional services, and additional pro bono staffing has been provided by student interns. This practice will be continued in the future, particularly to meet the need for technology support for the Commission.

In December, 1995, the Commission Office moved from one small room in the War Memorial Building at 401 Van Ness to more adequate rental space in Fox Plaza at 1390 Market Street, Suite 801. In its new location, the Commission has been able to better serve the public in providing access to filings, and to enhance its usage of computer technology.

B. Duties Of The Commission

San Francisco Charter Section 3.699-11 provides the following duties and responsibilities for the Commission:

Campaign Finance Disclosure. The Commission administers and enforces the City's Campaign Contribution Control Ordinance. The Commission receives and reviews campaign statements disclosing contributions and expenditures filed by candidates and current officeholders in San Francisco. It audits the statements to ensure that campaign contributions and expenditures are within legal limits. It assesses fees and penalties for failure to adhere to filing deadlines and requirements.

As of December 21, 1995, the Commission also administers and enforces the City's Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance (CFRO), which sets voluntary ceilings on campaign expenditures by candidates, which in turn impact on contribution limits. This additional responsibility for the Commission resulted from the passage of Proposition N by the voters in the November 1995 election.

Lobbyist Registration and Regulation. The Commission administers and enforces the City's municipal lobbying ordinance. This ordinance requires registration and regular reporting of contributions and expenditures from lobbyists representing interests at City Hall and throughout City Government. It audits the statements to insure completeness and accuracy. It assesses fees and penalties for failure to adhere to filing deadlines and requirements.

There is also the potential for passage by the Board of Supervisors of proposed legislation which would create similar registration and reporting requirements for political consultants. As with the CFRO, this would result in additional responsibilities for the Ethics Commission, beyond those originally delineated in the Charter.

Conflict of Interest Reporting. The Commission serves as the filing office for Statements of Economic Interests (Political Reform Act Forms 721 and 730) for elected and appointed officials, department heads and members of designated boards and commissions who are required to file these statements. It assesses fees and penalties for failure to adhere to filing deadlines and requirements. The Commission also assists departments in developing and maintaining conflict of interest codes as required by law.

Investigations and Enforcement. The Commission investigates complaints filed by any person regarding violations of ethics laws, including campaign finance, lobbying, and misuse of government funds. The Commission holds hearings and issues findings, as prescribed by law, ordinance and regulations.

Whistleblower Program. The Commission conducts a Whistleblower program to investigate allegations of improper government activities, including corruption, fraud, theft of City property, discrimination, sexual or racial harassment, retaliation, bribery, misuse of government property, and similar offenses. Staff of the Commission directly investigate and/or work appropriately with other City departments to resolve these complaints. The Commission also enforces laws pertaining to access to open meetings and public records.

Education and Training. The Commission administers an Education and Training program for city employees, city officials, candidates for office and the general public. The Commission conducts meetings and seminars on ethics issues, makes presentations, and produces and distributes educational materials.

Filing, Advice and Information. The Commission serves as the filing office for all of the reports and forms related to campaign finance, lobbying, conflict of interest etc. listed above. All filings are maintained in the Commission's offices for public access. The Commission provides opinions, formal and informal advice, and information on governmental ethics related matters.

C. Accomplishments

In this, its first year of fully-staffed operation, the Commission's accomplishments have been significant, both in terms of addressing administrative/organizational issues and in the performance of its charter-mandated duties.

Administrative/Organizational Issues:

1. Recruitment and Hiring of Permanent Staff.

Through the Executive Director, the Commission developed position descriptions for its staff positions, and worked with the Department of Human Resources to arrive at appropriate classifications. Candidates were recruited and interviewed, and all positions were filled by September 1995. All of the staff members who were hired remain in their positions, to date. Training and education for staff has been provided in cooperation with the state FPPC, the Franchise Tax Board, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and other appropriate sources. A performance evaluation system has been established for all staff.

2. Pro Bono and Volunteer Assistance

The Commissioners continued to devote considerable time and effort to the development of policies and procedures, and to educational activities. The Commission Chairperson has traveled on her own time and at her own expense to attend the annual conference of the Council On Government Ethics Laws, in Washington, DC.

The Commission continued to use the services of the Center For The Common Good, a nonprofit organization, together with the Walter and Elise Haas Foundation, which provided, pro bono, a series of planning and development sessions. This forum allowed the Commission to prioritize its charter-mandated work and develop strategies for implementation, discuss policy issues without the time constraints of its regular meetings, and conduct a dialogue with the public and appointing authorities on these issues. In the last year, these meetings have provided for further development of an ongoing workplan, strategy sessions, orientation for new commissioners and staff members, and meetings with appointing authorities.

The Commission utilized the services of unpaid student interns to assist with the design and development of data bases, and other resource materials. The use of pro bono and volunteer assistance will be continued as an enhancement of the Commission's resources.

3. Relocation of Office

The Commission was initially housed in temporary space in the War Memorial Building, at 401 Van Ness. The single small room assigned to the Commission was inadequate for providing working space for staff and for accommodating public access to files and information. Through the Executive Director, the Commission worked with the Real Estate Office to identify and negotiate for suitable rental space. The leasing process was successfully completed, and the Commission moved to its new premises in December 1995.

4. Transitions From Other City Agencies re: Campaign Finance Disclosure,

Lobbying, Conflict of Interest, and Government Conduct.

During the last year, the Commission has completed the transition and transfer of mandated functions from the Registrar of Voters, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, and the Mayor's Office in accordance with negotiated agreements which ensured continuity of performance and service. Beginning in January 1996, the Ethics Commission has taken over responsibility for all local campaign finance disclosure filings and related enforcement activities from the Registrar of Voters. The ongoing filing of Lobbyist Registration and Activity Reports as well as Statements of Economic Interests was transferred from the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, and all relevant records are now housed at the Ethics Commission. Whistleblower complaints are now filed with the Ethics Commission. This activity was taken over from staff of the Mayor's Office.

In the previous year, these various tasks were performed under the jurisdiction of the Commission, but the staffing was provided by other departments, as was public access to records. In this year, the Commission has taken on the full range of responsibility for implementation, enforcement and oversight of these functions, and has developed and expanded the levels of performance.

5. Operating Regulations and Procedures

The Commission has amended and enhanced its bylaws, including development and adoption of a mission statement and a code of conduct. Internal operating procedures continue to be developed. The Commission recently issued a revised and expanded Lobbyist Manual which provides instructions and forms for lobbyist registration and reporting of activities. A further revision will be issued later this year. The Regulations for Investigations and Enforcement Proceedings, adopted June 12, 1995, are currently under review by the Commission, and a revision is expected to be issued this year.

Charter Mandates:

1. Campaign Finance Disclosure

Beginning in January, 1996, the Ethics Commission has taken over responsibility for all local campaign finance disclosure filings and related enforcement activities from the Registrar of Voters. The Commission served as the filing office for all local candidates, candidate committees, slate mailer committees and ballot measure committees for the semi-annual filing on January 31, 1996, and the pre-election filings on February 15, 1996 and March 14, 1996. Additionally, there were approximately 80 late contribution filings in the two weeks prior to the March election. Approximately 250 filing entities are currently active and required to file reports on six different dates throughout the year.

Of the 250 filing entities, approximately 55 meet the threshold requirement which mandates Electronic Filing, as per Administrative Code Article XIIB Section 16.535-539.

In this year, the Commission contracted with a software consultant to develop and implement campaign finance software which will result in a standard format of data submission for all of the filers. Additionally, the campaign finance data filed electronically with the Commission was available for public access on the Internet, as a pro bono project of the California Voters' Foundation. In the coming year, the software will be further developed and distributed, and the Internet site will be developed and maintained by ISD for the Commission. It is expected that the use of electronic filing and data access will grow considerably in the coming year.

As of December 21, 1995, the Commission also administers and enforces the City's Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance, which sets voluntary ceilings on campaign expenditures by candidates, which in turn impact on contribution limits. The Commission has developed the necessary procedures and forms to implement the Ordinance. Per the transition year requirements of the CFRO, the Commission adjusted the expenditure ceilings for the November 1996 election, and informed all candidates of this action. The Commission has been active in oversight and enforcement of the CFRO, and, with the Registrar of Voters, will conduct informational meetings for candidates and committees.

The Commission has assessed late-filing fines for candidates and committees which were delinquent in filing financial disclosure statements for all filing periods since October 1995. To date, the Commission has collected approximately $8,500 in fines, which has been deposited in the General Fund as revenue to the City.

2. Lobbyist Registration and Regulation

The responsibility for the administration and enforcement of the municipal Lobbying Ordinance was transferred from the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors to the Ethics Commission. Lobbyists are required to register annually with the Commission and to report quarterly on their activities. Approximately 51 lobbyists are currently registered with the Ethics Commission. To date, the Commission has issued three Quarterly Summary Reports of Lobbyist Activity. These reports, which are issued to elected officials, the media, and the public, provide comprehensive charts and summaries of lobbyist activities and expenditures.

To date, the Ethics Commission has collected approximately $3,000 in Lobbyist Registration fees, which has been deposited in the General Fund as revenue to the City.

After conducting public hearings, and seeking public input, the Commission recently issued a revised and expanded Lobbyist Manual which provides instructions and forms for lobbyist registration and reporting of activities. Initial response to the Manual from interested parties has been very positive. A further revision will be issued later this year.

3. Conflict of Interest Reporting

The Commission took over the responsibility of Conflict of Interest Reporting from the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, and now serves as the filing office for Statements of Economic Interests (Political Reform Act Forms 721 and 730) for elected and appointed officials, department heads and members of designated boards and commissions who are required to file these statements. The Commission performs comprehensive oversight of the program, and provides information and advice to filers. This year, over 500 City officials and employees have filed their Statements of Economic Interests directly with the Commission. Additionally, all City department heads who serve as the filing officers for employees within their departments have filed reports with the Commission.

4. Investigations and Enforcement

Rules and Regulations for Investigation and Enforcement Proceedings for the Commission were drafted, reviewed and adopted after extensive public hearings, and review by the Board of Supervisors. A revision of the Rules and Regulations is expected to be issued this year. Operating protocols have been developed with the staff of the City and District Attorneys' Offices, and the Commission has logged and processed approximately 30 complaints in the last year, per the provisions of the Charter and the Regulations.

5. Whistleblower Activity

The Commission has taken over the Whistleblower functions from the Mayor's Office, and transferred all records to its office. The Commission processes Whistleblower complaints in accordance with the Rules and Regulations for Investigation and Enforcement Proceedings, and/or works appropriately with other City departments to resolve these complaints. The Commission also assists the public with issues related to access to open meetings and public records.

6. Education and Training

In cooperation with other appropriate entities and resources, the Commission has begun to participate in and implement a variety of outreach efforts to provide education and training to city officials and employees, constituent groups and the public. The Commission has created a brochure regarding its mission and services. The Commission has produced and distributed informational materials on a variety of subjects including the filing of Statements of Economic Interests, and the provisions of the Campaign Finance Reform Act. Presentations about the role of the Ethics Commission have been made at Department Head meetings. The Commission also participated in the Mayor's Office orientation for members of Boards and Commissions, by making a presentation at the session which provided an Overview of the Laws and Rules for City Commissioners. The Commission and the Registrar of Voters will be presenting a series of meetings for candidates and committee officials to provide information and assistance related to campaign ordinance requirements, in preparation for the November 1996 election.

Through the Executive Director, presentations about the work of the Ethics Commission have been made to various representatives of other cities, states and nations. The Commission is a member of the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws, and serves on the nominating committee. The Commission is also represented at the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union Center for Ethics and Social Policy.

The Commission has issued six media releases in the past year, highlighting its actions and activities, and providing information to the general public. The Commission worked with ISD to develop an Ethics Commission Web Page site on the City of San Francisco's Home Page which provides access to information, data, forms etc.

7. Filing, Advice and Information

In the last year, Commission staff members have responded to over 1000 phone inquiries:

  • 126 inquiries re: the nature/work of the Commission
  • 247 inquiries re: campaign finance disclosure
  • 146 inquires re: lobbyist ordinance requirements
  • 362 inquiries re: statements of economic interests
  • 22 inquiries re: whistleblower issues
  • 99 inquiries from the media

In the last year, approximately 250 persons have visited the Commission's office to access and research information contained in the public records filed with the Commission. Commission staff members provide assistance to the public in locating records, and in making both paper and disk copies. Additionally, the Commission has responded to written requests, and issued letters of informal advice on ethics-related matters.

___________________________________
Virginia C. Gee, Chairperson

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