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Governmental Ethics & City Contractors


Many City employees and officers are involved in the reviewing and approval of contracts. These contracts may be for professional services, construction, grants to non-profits, or something else.

What they have in common is this: they must be fairly assessed. But how?

This document covers some basics. From how to provide assistance to applicants to rules around gifts & violations, this should help guide you.

Selective Assistance for RFPs & RFQs

Some city officers and employees are involved in soliciting and approving contracts. To keep things fair, the same info must be provided to everyone. In short, no one from the City can provide assistance that isn’t otherwise available to all bidders. For example, it means that you cannot give extra information to one bidder.

Your department may have additional restrictions in its Statement of Incompatible Activities. If you need more information, please consult with your Department’s contracting lead.

City Gifts Rules

Those soliciting or responding to City contracting opportunities should understand the restrictions on gift giving and receiving.

• We can’t accept gifts for doing our jobs. Accepting or asking for gifts for providing City services, assistance, advice, or anything related to our City jobs is prohibited.
• We can’t accept or ask for gifts from the people we manage.
• If a contractor or other restricted source gives you a gift, don’t accept it!

Restricted sources include contractors or someone who seeks to contract with your department. It also includes anyone who has tried to influence you in any legislative or administrative action in the past 12 months.

Form 700 filers:
In addition to the rules above, if your level of decision-making authority requires you to disclose your financial interests on Form 700, more gift rules apply.

Visit the Ethics Commission Resource Page for Form 700 filers for more information about gift limits and disclosures.

The City’s gift laws are comprehensive, can apply in a wide range of scenarios, and can also have some common exceptions. So, the most important rule is: seek guidance before accepting a gift to avoid violating the law.
Don’t hesitate to ask – the Ethics Commission is here to assist you! Visit the Ethics’ Commission webpage on Gifts and Travel for more information or contact us at 415-252-3100 or

Political Contributions

Local political donations are a more complicated if you work in or with the city. This is to reduce the chance that gifts don’t influence decision-making. It also helps prevent inappropriate pressure in the workplace.

If you fall into one of these groups, then additional rules apply to you:
• If you’re a City officer or employee seeking donations
• If you are seeking a permit
• If you have or are seeking a contract
• If you are seeking a Large Project Authorization

If you fall into these groups, you must generally be very careful about when (or even if!) donations can be made or even requested. If you think these rules might apply to you, read more in detail here! 

Behested Payments

What are “Behested Payments?”

A behested payment is one made (for example, to a non-profit) because of a request by a public official or employee to someone to make that payment. A “payment” can be cash, goods, or services.

Because these requests can raise ethical flags about fairness in governmental decision-making, the practice is regulated by both state and San Francisco laws.
Learn more about the limits on requesting Behested Payments on our website.

Reporting Violations

Waste, fraud, or abuse in City government? Report it! You can file a confidential report through the Whistleblower Program.
You can report:
• City funds used in the wrong way or for the wrong purpose
• Any dishonest activity by a City officer or employee
• Wasting money or inefficient government practices
• Bad quality or poor delivery of City services

Retaliation against someone who filed a Whistleblower complaint is prohibited. Retaliation could mean firing someone or suspending them because they filed a complaint. I could also mean moving someone to a lower position or taking any action that affects their jobs in a negative way because they filed a complaint or because they cooperated in an investigation.

If you believe you are a victim of whistleblower retaliation, file a complaint with the Ethics Commission.

To contact an investigator, call the Ethics Commission at 415-252-3100 or visit the Ethics Commission’s complaint website

How Are whistleblowers protected?

How are whistleblowers protected?

People need to trust that if they report improper government activity, they won’t be a target for retaliation.
“Retaliation” could include being fired, demoted, suspended, or other similar actions against an employee.

If retaliation has occurred, the offender can face fines of $5,000-$10,000 as well as disciplinary actions. In addition, the retaliatory action could be reversed.

Learn more about retaliations and their penalties here.

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