The Sierra Club supports the Friends of Ethics, a local good-government group, in its current effort to upgrade the policies and procedures governing political campaigns in San Francisco. This effort focuses on improvements that can be made in a relatively short time frame, before the 2015 election cycle and city budget cycle are complete. It involves encouraging the San Francisco Ethics Commission to adopt a number of needed reforms, some of which will require action by the Board of Supervisors.
The reforms the Sierra Club and Friends of Ethics urge at this time include restrictions on gifts and contributions to city officials from lobbyists or anyone else who could be seen to benefit from a proposed city action; additional powers for the Ethics Commission including the ability to disqualify parties from bidding on or being considered for city contracts; a tightening of regulations on fundraising by candidates for city office; and funding for an Ethics Commission secretary to ensure timely progress on actions taken by the Commission.
The specific reforms the Sierra Club and Friends of Ethics urge at this time include the following:
- Establishment of a private right of action that includes a provision for a private plaintiff to receive 50% of the penalties collected as a result of the action.
- Amendment of enforcement provisions to include not only fines, but also ineligibility to bid on or be considered for contracts.
- Prohibition of contributions from parties who seek land-use-related approvals that exceed a certain threshold monetary amount.
- Prohibition of contributions, gifts, or behest payments from any person or entity that is subject to enforcement actions to certain elected officials involved with the agency instituting the action.
- Prohibition of contributions or fundraising from lobbyists and those who receive a benefit from a proposed city action, as well as prohibition of fundraising by city commissioners and department heads for any candidate other than themselves.
- Designation of the Ethics Commission as the sole filing officer for behest statements and expansion of the statements to require additional disclosure.
- Amendment to the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance to permit transfers to and from controlled committees only if the committees were formed for the same City elective office.
- Funding and hiring of an Ethics Commission secretary to enable timely progress on actions taken at Commission meetings.
The San Francisco Ethics Commission was established in 1993 by a voter-approved amendment to the City Charter. Among other functions, it audits financial-disclosure statements filed by political candidates, committees, and designated City and County employees to ensure compliance with contribution limits. The Commission also investigates ethics complaints and assesses fees and penalties for ethics violations such as conflicts of interest while making city decisions, failing to report lobbyist contracts, or failing to meet timetables for disclosing campaign contributors and expenses.
The Sierra Club supports these and other efforts to ensure fair and equitable consideration of public policy issues. The only way the environment (including its inhabitants) has a fighting chance is if we continue to try to level the public policy playing field. Or as stated by San Francisco Group chair Sue Vaughan, “Good government is good for the environment.”
— Karen Babbitt