Announcement of Ethics Commission Special Meeting and Notice of Proposed Regulations

February 15, 2022

Contact: Michael Canning  (415) 252-3130

The San Francisco Ethics Commission will hold a special remote meeting on Friday, February 25, 2022, beginning at 10:00 a.m. to hear from members of the public on proposed amendments to strengthen the City’s gift and ethics laws that it is considering as draft ballot measure and as amended Commission regulations. Under City Charter Sec. 15.102, the Ethics Commission may submit an ordinance directly to the voters at the next general election by a four-fifths vote of all its members. The Commission has scheduled the special meeting to provide an additional focused opportunity for the Commission to further engage with members of the public on the pending proposals.

Background

In January 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice began to bring criminal corruption charges against multiple City officials, employees, and contractors. The charges allege numerous instances in which individuals seeking favorable outcomes from City government provided things of value to City officials in an attempt to influence the actions of those officials.

In response, the Ethics Commission conducted a comprehensive review of the City’s ethics laws in phases to ensure that the types of conduct alleged in the criminal complaints are appropriately prohibited and deterred by City law and that any other relevant weaknesses identified in the laws can be addressed and the laws strengthened.

These proposed changes would clarify and expand aspects of the City’s restricted source rule, which limits gifts to City officials from those doing business with their department and those who have recently attempted to influence them. The changes would also strengthen the City’s bribery rule and expand the number of City officials required to complete annual ethics training.

Detailed information about the Commission’s deliberations to date, including the draft ballot measure pending with the Commission and proposed amended Commission regulations are available on the Commission’s website at https://sfethics.org.

For additional reference, the Commission has also produced a summary chart listing the proposed changes outlines the sections of the San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code that would be changed by the proposed ballot measure and proposed regulation amendments.

Special Meeting on February 25

The Commission invites the participation of members of the public, representatives from nonprofit organizations, and other key stakeholders at its special meeting on February 25. The Special Meeting Agenda and materials will be circulated in advance of the meeting date.  The Commission welcomes all public comment, and in particular is interested to hear comment on and discuss the following policy questions:

  • Should the giving of gifts by restricted sources to City officials subject the giver of an unlawful gift to potential penalties?
    Under current law, City officials are prohibited from accepting or soliciting gifts from restricted sources. The proposed ballot measure would create a prohibition on the giving of such gifts by restricted sources, with the restricted source giver of the gift being liable for potential penalties for violations of the rule.
  • Should the City’s restricted source rule allow City officials to accept free or reduced-price tickets from restricted sources?
    Current law allows City officials to accept from a restricted source tickets to events if they are making a speech or performing a ceremonial role. Additional provisions are being considered that would allow City officials to accept free tickets to nonprofit fundraisers and arts/entertainment events under certain conditions when the events are attended as part of the official’s governmental role. Should these kinds of exemptions be added? If so, under what conditions?
  • Should affiliates of nonprofit entities be considered restricted sources?
    The measure would extend the restricted source rule to affiliates of entities that are restricted sources. This would mean that if an entity is a restricted source, so would the entity’s director, board members, and owners. Should board members of nonprofit organizations be considered affiliates for the purpose of the restricted source if their organization is a restricted source?
  • Should applying for a license, permit, or other entitlement for use make a person a restricted source for the issuing department?
    The proposed measure and regulation amendments would specify that someone applying to receive a license, permit, or other entitlement for use would become a restricted source for that department, unless such approval is solely ministerial, secretarial, manual, or clerical.

Notice of Proposed Regulations Concerning Gift Rules

At its special meeting on Friday, February 25, 2022, the Commission may consider and possibly act on the proposed regulations regarding the City’s gift rules referenced above that would amend existing Ethics Commission regulations.

Specifically, under current law City officers and employees are prohibited from soliciting or accepting gifts from persons doing business with or seeking to do business with their department or persons who in the prior 12 months have attempted to influence the officer or employee in any legislative or administrative action. City officers and employees are also prohibited from soliciting or accepting gifts from their subordinates. Both of these rules exempt certain types of gifts. At its Special Meeting, the Ethics Commission may consider amendments to these regulations to provide greater clarity and to revise the types of gifts that are exempt from these rules, including the removal of some of the current gift exemptions.

This 10-day notice is provided under Charter Sec. 4.104 to encourage public comment on the proposals in advance of the Commission’s February 25th meeting.

Written comments on the proposals can be sent via email to ethics.commission@sfgov.org. Written public comment received by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 24, 2022, will be provided to the Commission for its February 25, 2022 meeting. Opportunity for public comment will also be provided during the Commission’s meeting.

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The San Francisco Ethics Commission was created by the City’s voters with the passage of Proposition K in November 1993. Our mission is to practice and promote the highest standards of integrity in government. We achieve that by shaping and promoting compliance with the laws and by delivering impactful programs that promote fair, transparent, and accountable governmental decision making for the benefit of all San Franciscans. Through its 33-member staff, the Ethics Commission is responsible for the independent and impartial administration and enforcement of laws related to campaign finance, public financing of candidates, governmental ethics, conflicts of interest, and registration and reporting by lobbyists, campaign consultants, permit consultants, and major developers.

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