Ethics Commission
City and County of San Francisco

Executive Director’s Report – November 9, 2020

November 9, 2020
To: Members of the Ethics Commission
From: LeeAnn Pelham, Executive Director
Subject: Agenda Item 9 – Executive Director’s Report for November 2020

Summary

This report provides various programmatic and operational highlights since the last Executive Director’s Report.

Action Requested

No action is required by the Commission, as this item is for informational purposes only.

Public Financing Program Status

As of November 9, the 16 Supervisorial candidates who received public financing in their campaigns together qualified to receive more than $3.34 million in public funds. Candidates’ public financing disbursements can be viewed on the Commission’s campaign finance dashboards by selecting the “Public Financing” tab from the series of tabs shown just above the “Received Funds” header. Charts detail the amount of public funds disbursed to date to each candidate and illustrate the running total of disbursements to date.

Five of the 16 participating candidates, or nearly one-third, reached the maximum amounts of public financing under the law for their races. Another five candidates qualified to receive roughly 90 percent of the maximum allowed amounts, while two more qualified to receive more than 80 percent of the maximum amounts.

In the four weeks prior to the November 3 election, roughly $1.1 million in reported third-party spending in these Supervisorial races triggered the lifting of spending limits for 14 of the 16 publicly financed candidates in four Supervisorial districts. Just over half of the third-party spending was made in opposition to a candidate, with just under one half made to support a candidate.

As is the case after every election in which candidates receive public funds, Commission staff will issue a report on the public financing system. In addition, the committees of all candidates that receive public funds are required to be audited by the Commission. That analysis and initiation of these mandatory audits are scheduled for this spring following the filing of candidates’ year-end campaign disclosure reports for the 2020 election, which are due on January 31, 2021.

Public written reports for all 14 candidate committees that received public financing in the 2018 elections have now been completed by external auditors and are posted online on the Commission’s website. With the public financing disbursements now largely complete for the 2020 election, Commission auditors will resume focus on campaign audits from the November 2019 election and prepare for the 2020 audit cycle. Follow up work on the BLA audit recommendations will also be underway.

Budget and Legislative Analyst Performance Audit

On October 6th Supervisors Mar and Yee requested a hearing on the findings and recommendations of the BLA 2020 performance audit of the Ethics Commission that was issued on August 10, 2020.  The request (Board of Supervisors File No. 201158) was received and assigned to the Government Audit and Oversight Committee. The committee meets on the 1st and Third Thursdays of the month and is comprised of Supervisors Mar, Peskin and Haney. We will keep you apprised of any hearing date that may be scheduled.

As previously noted, our office is in full agreement with the report’s recommendations and has begun implementing them as outlined in our response, which was included in the final audit report and discussed under Item 6 at the Commission’s August 2020 regular meeting.

Hiring Plan Update

Staff met with our Client Services team from the Department of Human Resources on October 13 regarding our FY21 hiring plan and to map out an expedited process for filling our staff vacancies in early 2021. That process is now underway with the goal of initiating job postings for the following positions in the coming weeks:

  • IS Engineer, Electronic Disclosure and Data Analysis Division
  • Customer Service Specialist for Form 700 E-Filing Project, Engagement & Compliance
  • Policy Analyst, Policy and Legislative Affairs
  • Investigator, Enforcement Division
  • Audits Manager for campaign and lobbying audits and post-compliance review projects

Form 700 E-filing Project Status

Last month, Staff were able to resume priority work on the Form 700 “e-filing for all” project as essential staffing resources for the project were secured with funding included in the October 1 adoption of the City’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Resumption of the project will allow for the City’s roughly 3,500 designated departmental filers to submit their public Statement of Economic Interests (Form 700) in an electronic format beginning in January 2022. Electronic filing will require City employees to cease filing paper forms with their department’s filing officer and to begin using the same electronic system to file the Form 700 that is already being used by elected officials, board and commission members, and department heads.

To support this transition, Departmental filing officers will be using the system to create new filer accounts working in coordination with their human resources staff and assigning and monitoring filing requirements for employees. Information systems staff will be responsible for migrating employee data into the Form 700 e-filing system so that the designated City employees are able to file the correct filing required to be filed by law.  Ethics Commission staff will provide training and support to departmental filing officers so that they may serve as a resource to filers and properly administer the system and will also provide direct training and ongoing support to Form 700 designated filers directly. This training will help ensure that filers and filing officers have the time and resources to successfully commence electronic filing and will be designed to minimize any difficulties experienced by new users.  Ultimately, these efforts will help ensure the accuracy and completeness of information that is disclosed online to the public.

Engagement and Compliance Manager Rachel Gage has prepared the attached overview of the Form 700 e-filing rollout to provide an update on the Form 700 project and work currently underway. She will provide a brief summary of these activities during this agenda item at the November meeting and will be available, along with Director of Technology Steven Massey, for any questions you may have about the project.

New Campaign Finance Search and Data Visualization Tool on the City’s Open Data Portal

In the lead up to the November 3, 2020 election, staff collaborated with colleagues at DataSF to release a new campaign finance search and data visualization tool that is integrated into the City’s open data portal. This tool allows the public to visually explore contributions to candidate and ballot measure campaigns in San Francisco using an intuitive and easy to use interface. Via the internet, anyone can use the tool to search candidate and ballot measure names and see aggregated contributions, top contributors, fundraising totals, a map view of contribution locations, and a graph of fundraising totals over time. This new application is made possible because the Commission maintains campaign finance disclosure records as open data on the City’s open data portal.  The new campaign finance search tool on the open data portal is available at data.sfgov.org/campaign_finance.  More information about the application can be found on the DataSF blog.  Tyler Field will be on hand to briefly demonstrate the application during this agenda item at the November  meeting.

Supplemental Ethics Commission Funding

Staff have continued to explore potential models for developing a Citywide Integrity Fund that could be a method for providing a more stable and predictable level of funding for the Ethics Commission’s work across budget years. The need for the City to invest in all available approaches more fully to prevent public corruption before it can take root has only been underscored by events of 2020. Our office is prioritizing the goal of strengthening how City resources could be leveraged to better invest in the Commission’s work, including to plan and execute broad and practical ethics training, to ensure its public disclosure systems can nimbly adapt to evolving laws and evolving user needs, and to ensure robust, fair, and independent investigations and administrative enforcement.

The annual budget process has not historically resulted in resources sufficient for the Commission to achieve its existing mandates. Staff, therefore, are exploring whether there exist any means to establish a fixed or guaranteed supplemental funding source for the Commission’s budget that would provide a more reliable basis for supporting its voter mandate, including longer term planning necessary to initiate and sustain broadened ethics compliance work in partnership with departments citywide.

During this initial research stage, Staff has learned that the budget of the New York Campaign Finance Board is guaranteed to some extent through that city’s charter. Staff is in communication with the Campaign Finance Board to learn how that agency’s budget is developed and funded, whether that process has resulted in sufficient funding to meet that agency’s mandate, and how insights from the CFB’s experience might inform the development of approaches here in San Francisco. In addition, within the City and County of San Francisco, the budget of the City Services Auditor was established in the Charter using a fixed percentage of the City’s overall annual budget. This feature of the CSA’s budget was established by the voters when approving Prop C in 2003. We also plan to reach out to CSA staff in the coming weeks for further background on the mechanics of their budget and funding.

Revenues Report

The table below shows the revenues received by the Commission during the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2020, as of November 6, 2020.

Summary of FY20-21 Revenues

 FY 20-21 Budgeted AmountFY 20-21 Receipts as of November 6, 2020
Lobbyist Registration Fees$85,000$12,000
Lobbyists Fines$2,000$1,000
Campaign Consultants Fees$7,000$4,100
Contact Lobbyist and Other$2,450$0
Statement of Economic Interests Filings-Late Fees$1,250$850
Campaign Consultant Fines$2,000$0
Campaign Finance Fines (includes late fees and forfeitures)$50,000$8,575
Ethics, Other/ Administrative Fines Levied by the Commission$7,500$3,025
Major Developer Fee$0$500
Total$157,200$30,050

I look forward to answering any questions or providing further information at the upcoming Commission meeting.

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