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Statement of Ethics Commission Chair Yvonne Lee on Mayor’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2023-24 and 2024-25 Commission Budget


On May 31st, Mayor Breed released her proposed City budget for FY2023-24 and FY2024-25. The Mayor’s budget would disproportionally impose deep cuts to the Ethics Commission’s oversight programs over the next two years in ways that would have profoundly negative effects. These cuts harm transparency and accountability in the City, and they represent a stark departure from the budgets proposed for other departments. Should these cuts be enacted it would render the Ethics Commission significantly less effective. I urge the Board of Supervisors to consider the drastic impact these cuts will have on City government and all those who interact with it.

The Mayor’s budget would cut the Ethics Commission’s operating budget by 32% and reduce the agency’s staff by 40%. These cuts would eliminate or drastically curtail many of the Commission’s most important programs. The Commission would lose its staffing responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with campaign finance laws and summarizing campaign finance activity for the public, which would occur during the 2024 general election. This election will include races for Mayor, Board of Supervisors, 12 other local elected offices, and any number of local ballot measures. It is likely that spending on these races will total in the millions of dollars. Transparency is the only way the public can understand how money is spent to influence their votes.

The Mayor’s budget ends all funding for the Commission’s ethics training program, which was created following the federal corruption probe that resulted in the conviction of several high level City officials and City contractors. There is a clear need to proactively train City officials on ethics rules and dire consequences if ethics rules are not a central part of the City’s organizational culture. The elimination of the training staff positions will prevent the Commission from undertaking this training program.

The Commission’s Enforcement Division will be reduced by half. After an investment in the program in FY2021-22, the Enforcement Division was able to eliminate the Commission’s backlog of enforcement matters, which had existed for many years when the division was understaffed. In that timeframe, the division reduced its response time to review cases by 67% and improved its case closure rate by 60%. The Mayor’s reduction to the Commission’s enforcement unit will result in fewer violations being investigated and less accountability for government officials, lobbyists, and campaigns.

These dramatic cuts to the Ethics Commission’s budget are not apparent when looking only at the total departmental budget amounts reported in the Mayor’s budget. These numbers—a $358,000 cut in FY24 followed by a $1.35 million increase in FY25—would seem to show that the Ethics Commission’s operations are going to receive increased funding. However, this is not the case. These numbers include an increase of $3.25 million to the Election Campaign Fund, a fund that is solely used to support the City’s public campaign financing program. This program, which distributes funds to candidates running for elected office, is subject to a statutory funding requirement, and the funds cannot be used to support the Ethics Commission’s overall operations. The Mayor’s proposed deposits into the Election Campaign Fund obscures the fact that the agency’s actual budget is being severely cut back. Ironically, these cuts would include the loss of many of the Commission’s positions necessary to administer the public financing program.

The Mayor’s proposed budget cuts to the Ethics Commission stand out as unusually severe when compared to the rest of the budget. Staffing for nearly every other City department is increased, kept level, or cut by less than 5%. It is therefore striking that the Ethics Commission would lose 40% of its positions.

This disparate treatment of the Ethics Commission’s budget is all the more troubling considering that, by comparison, the Ethics Commission is a very small City department. At 31 total budgeted positions, the Commission is one of the City’s smallest departments. The Mayor’s cuts to the Commission’s staff would do little to balance a $5 billion staffing budget; however, this cut will have an immediate and severe effect on the City’s ethics programs.

I was pleased to see the Mayor highlight good government as one of seven priority budget areas. But the Commission is subject to harsher staffing cuts than any other department. The Mayor’s plan for the Ethics Commission comes at an unfortunate time. The 2024 election, the first under the City’s new system of consolidated local elections, is fast approaching. The Mayor’s proposed increase to the City’s workforce will also increase need for ethics training and oversight. And, the City is still at a pivotal juncture to put practices in place that will help prevent corrupt practices such as those that were revealed through the federal corruption probe. A significantly downsized Ethics Commission will be unable to meet these needs.

I call on all members of the Board of Supervisors to recognize that the Ethics Commission is a vital part of keeping our City government accountable. The Commission should be maintained at a level that allows it to serve the functions it was created by the voters 30 years ago to serve.

Yvonne Lee, Chair
San Francisco Ethics Commission

Yvonne Lee was appointed to the Ethics Commission in 2017 and elected as its chair in 2022. She previously served on the San Francisco Police Commission, was a Presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and is currently an appointee to the US Agriculture department’s 15-member Equity Commission.

Additional Facts

Proposed Budget Cuts

  • The Commission would go from 31 positions to 19 under the proposed budget.
  • For context, the Commission has not had a staff of 19 since FY2014-15, nine years ago.
  • The Mayor’s budget does not fully indicate the cuts on its face because the budget includes funding for the City’s public campaign financing program, a voter-mandated project, as part of the Commission’s proposed budget. These funds, which are dispersed to candidates under the program, cannot be used for the Commission’s administration.


  • Currently, only about 500 City officials are required to take ethics training. The vast majority of the City’s workforce of 35,000 receive no formal exposure to ethics rules. The Commission’s ethics training program, which would be defunded entirely through the budget cuts, was created to expand ethics training to more City officials.
  • The Commission’s Enforcement Division will be reduced from eight to four staff, a staffing level that caused case resolution times to grow to several years and led to the accumulation of a large backlog of cases.
Net percentage change in funded positions from FY23 to FY25, by department.  Ethics Commission reduction equals -40%.

Source: Mayor’s Budget Book, Funded Positions, Grand Recap By Major Service Area And Department Title, p. 78-79.

Ethics Commission Cuts in Context

  • The Ethics Commission would sustain the highest percentage cut to its number of staff positions of any department, with a 40% cut. The average change to the staffing numbers in other departments is an increase of 0.4%.
  • In total, the Mayor’s budget grows the City’s workforce by over 350 positions, a roughly 1% increase to the total City workforce.
  • Under the Mayor’s budget, the Ethics Commission would lose more total positions (12) than any other City department but three; each of the other three departments is considerably larger than the Commission.
  • Currently, the median department size is 160 positions, and the average is 639 positions. The Ethics Commission currently has 31 positions, making it one of the smallest City Departments.
  • The Commission’s staff positions are currently funded at $4.5 million, representing less than one-tenth of one percent of the Mayor’s proposed spending on staff salaries City-wide of $4.9 billion.

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