The Ethics Commission’s mandate to promote the integrity of local government and elections remains as critical as ever. Three years ago, the City began to witness a string of federal corruption indictments and convictions against City officials and contractors that related to bribery, fraud, self-dealing, and pay-to-play schemes. The wide-ranging probe ensnared officials across several City departments. The Ethics Commission, Controller’s Office, and City Attorney’s Office all identified critical reforms to address the systemic problems made apparent by the corruption probe. The Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Legislative Analyst also recommended many programmatic improvements to be undertaken by the Ethics Commission following a performance audit. In light of the clear need for enhanced Ethics programs and policies, the Mayor and Board of Supervisors two years ago made budget investments to expand the Ethics Commission’s staffing capacity. These targeted investments were to enable electronic filing of Statement of Economic Interests (Form 700) for City staff, conduct timely and impactful investigations, provide outreach and training to City departments, and support essential public disclosure tools. The Commission has since made meaningful progress on these efforts including launching Form 700 e-filing for designated employees, building new Ethics@Work training program, and substantially reducing case resolutions times for investigations. There is an ongoing need to fund these initiatives to hold City officials accountable, change the culture of corruption in the City workforce, and restore public trust in City government. However, the funding for these new investments is set to expire over the upcoming two fiscal years (FY 2023-24 and FY 2024-25), which will severely affect the Commission’s ability to deliver on these initiatives and ensure impactful programs that promote fair, transparent, and accountable government.
In addition, the Commission is required to propose a five percent cut in the upcoming fiscal year and an eight percent cut in the following fiscal year per the Mayor’s budget instructions for all City departments. Between the expiring investment and the Mayor’s proposed cuts, the Ethics Commission is looking at an effective reduction of 38 percent of its staff positions by mid-2024 relative to its current staffing levels, leading to a catastrophic impact that would include:
- Elimination of the Commission’s new proactive ethics education program to equip the City’s leadership and workforce with practical tools and resources;
- Reduction of enforcement capacity by half, which will impede the Commission’s ability to reduce case resolution times and conduct independent and proactive investigations into matters that result in the most severe public harm to fair and accountable government;
- Elimination of staff resources to provide direct filing assistance to City officials and employees that enables timely compliance and online public access to the Statement of Economic Interests filings;
- Elimination of staff resources to provide compliance guidance and filing assistance to enable timely campaign disclosures by candidates and campaign committees;
- Discontinuation of the online campaign finance dashboard services to provide improved transparency into campaign activity for future election cycles;
- Limited resources to sustain development of online tools to enable timely and accessible public disclosure services.
To further the Commission’s mission and fully invest in its mandate, the Ethics Commission’s budget proposal seeks to continue funding these critical services at its existing organizational capacity without any reductions to its staffing resources. Historically, the Commission has not had sufficient resources to fully support all of its Charter mandated duties. With the recent addition of staff positions, the Commission has made great strides to strengthen its core programs. With the upcoming funding expirations and target cuts, the Commission will likely not be able to make further progress in this urgent work.
San Francisco’s annual budget is a reflection of the City’s priorities. Ensuring that there is no room in City government for corruption to take root requires the commitment of resources necessary for the seriousness and breadth of that work. For the City to do this work effectively, it is imperative that the Commission be sufficiently resourced to implement approaches that are needed to prevent corruption in all its forms. Over the past few years, we have witnessed what happens when establishing and sustaining a culture of ethical conduct in government has not been made a priority and seen that the impacts of pervasive corruption have a far greater cost than preventative measures. Now is not the time to backtrack on our commitment to rooting out corruption in City government. The current budget is an opportunity to show strong support for that commitment by adequately funding the Commission’s vital work.
We invite all San Franciscans to engage with us to further advance the critical mission for which City residents established the Ethics Commission and to help advance the highest ethical standards in San Francisco government. Please take some time to consider the implications of the budget cuts on the Ethics Commission and share your feedback by sending an email to email@example.com.
A copy of the Commission’s FY24-FY25 departmental budget proposal can be found here.