FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, August 23, 2023
Contact: Michael Canning at Michael.A.Canning@sfgov.org or (415) 252-3100
The Ethics Commission’s proposed ordinance would limit the flow of restricted source gifts to City officials, bring greater consistency to local ethics laws, and expand ethics training requirements for City officials.
At its monthly meeting on August 18, the Ethics Commission voted unanimously to place a package of reforms on the March ballot to close gaps in the City’s gift rules, strengthen ethics provisions, and expand ethics training requirements for City officials. This vote is the culmination of a major policy project the Commission initiated in 2020 in response to investigations of alleged corrupt behavior by numerous City officials and contractors.
“Placing potential reforms directly before the voters is a duty the Commission takes seriously,” said Commission Chair Yvonne Lee. “This is a project the Commission has been working on for the last three years and I would like to thank all of the stakeholders, who worked with the Commission to provide feedback on, and contribute to, the ordinance the Commission just approved for the ballot – feedback from members of the public, NGOs, and our colleagues in City government was a crucial aspect of this project.”
The reforms approved on Friday address several issues the Commission identified in the City’s current gift laws and would prevent City officials from taking gifts from those with business before the City to remove any perception that San Francisco is a “pay-to-play” City. Training on ethics issues would be expanded to over 4,000 City officials who participate in making government decisions.
“Our City residents and dedicated public servants alike expect and deserve a City government that works to promote the public good, not personal interests,” said Vice Chair Theis Finlev. “Reformed conflict of interest laws and increased training for City officials can help ensure that governmental decisions are made on a fair and impartial basis.”
Recent corruption charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice have alleged numerous instances in which individuals seeking favorable outcomes from City government provided meals, travel, luxury goods, and other gifts in an attempt to influence the actions of City officials. San Francisco’s restricted source rule prohibits City officials from soliciting or accepting gifts from any person or organization that (a) contracts with the official’s department, or (b) has sought to influence the official’s actions in the last 12 months.
The package of reforms acted on by the Commission would remove many current exceptions to what is considered a “gift” under the law and prohibit gifts from registered permit expediters. The ordinance also prohibits situations where City departments are used to pass gifts from restricted sources to City officials. It would also create a single, standardized disclosure requirement for City departments to capture and publicly present any allowable gifts received by the City.
Additionally, if approved by voters in March, the ordinance would centralize and harmonize essential ethics provisions of City law to foster more consistent application and enforcement of ethics standards across City departments. For example, there are basic provisions of ethics laws that currently reside only in departmental Statements of Incompatible Activities (SIAs). The ordinance would codify these standards and prohibitions against incompatible activities into the City’s core ethics statute. It would also standardize penalty provisions through the code, require changes to the code be approved by supermajorities of both the Ethics Commission and the Board of Supervisors, and specify that electronic filing can be required for all public disclosure documents.
The Commission had previously sought to place this ordinance before voters last year, on either the June or November 2022 ballots, but due to then-ongoing obligations to meet and confer with City bargaining units, the Commission was prevented from acting. As of last month, the City has satisfied its obligations to meet and confer and was thus able to vote during last Friday’s meeting to place the ordinance before voters next March.
“I would like to acknowledge and appreciate the work of all the former Ethics Commissioners, who helped establish this policy project and worked tirelessly to present voters with ethics reforms over the last three years,” said Chair Lee. “I would also like to recognize the diligence of my fellow Commissioners and the staff, who never shied away from challenges and worked diligently for the people of San Francisco throughout this process.”
Should the voters approve the ordinance in March, the changes enacted by the ordinance and related regulation amendments would become operative roughly six months after the election. Both before and during that time, the Commission will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure the effective implementation of these reforms, should they be approved by voters.
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The Ethics Commission, established in November 1993, serves the public, City employees and officials and candidates for public office through education and enforcement of ethics laws, including the assessment of fines through its administrative enforcement authority. Its duties include: filing and auditing of campaign finance disclosure statements, lobbyist and campaign consultant registration and regulation, administration of the public financing program, whistleblower program, conflict of interest reporting, investigations and enforcement, education and training, advice giving and statistical reporting. We invite you to follow our work at https://www.sfethics.org.