SF Chronicle: Gifts to SF Mayor May Have Violated City Ethics Law

Critics scrutinize Mayor Ed Lee’s China trip

by John Cote

April 7, 2013

Mayor Ed Lee was looking the part of a high-level diplomat during his recent visit with China’s vice president, Li Yuanchao, with aides discretely perched behind them and a soaring stylized mural of the Great Wall of China looming over it all.

But as Lee talked to students at Tsinghua University in Beijing about tech innovation, tried to convince Southern China Airlines to open a nonstop route from Guangzhou to San Francisco, and visited his father’s ancestral village, the funding for his 10-day official trip to China was being blasted by perennial critics at home as dubious or potentially illegal.

While Lee’s office contends the mayor did everything openly and by the book, three different complaints were recently filed with either the city’s Ethics Commission or the state Fair Political Practices Commission over the trip, which documents show was funded through the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

State law, with some exceptions, prohibits officials from accepting gifts of more than $440 a year from any single source, a rule that’s designed to curb the influence of moneyed interests on policy makers.

The tab for Lee’s official jaunt through Hong Kong, Beijing, Guangzhou, Taishan and Macau is listed at nearly $12,000 in disclosure documents the mayor filed at the Ethics Commission. But the filing contends that the chamber “acted as the intermediary” for gifts of $440 each provided by 41 different individuals or companies, many of whom are among the 43 people in Lee’s official delegation. That $18,040 total also covers the travel costs of the mayor’s wife, Anita, said Lee’s spokeswoman, Christine Falvey.

The same group of people chipped in similar amounts to cover travel costs for three of the mayor’s staffers on the trip, Falvey said. Those disclosure forms are not yet required to be filed.

Among those who are both donors and delegates are Chronicle columnist and former Mayor Willie Brown, his companion and city Immigrant Rights Commissioner Sonya Molodetskaya, and Lee confidant Rose Pak, the Chinese Chamber consultant who helped organize the trip. Six different companies or entities, including the chamber, Kwan Wo Construction and Boyett Construction, had at least two executives donate to cover the trip costs.

That looks sketchy to Jon Golinger, the president of the influential Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association, who wants the FPPC to investigate whether individuals were reimbursed or were named as the donor without actually paying, either of which would appear to violate state law.

“That’s why the paperwork matters,” said Golinger, who filed two of the complaints. “If those people of their own volition wrote separate checks, they’re allowed to do that. …. If it was reimbursed by the organization or they just claim that that’s who wrote the checks, as far as I know, that’s not legal.”

The FPPC already scolded Pak in an August 2011 letter for using another Chinese Chamber of Commerce entity, the Chinese New Year Festival Committee, to improperly cover the travel of Supervisors David Chiu, Carmen Chu and Eric Mar to southern China in 2009 in excess of the gift limit.

A separate complaint to the Ethics Commission from Golinger contends that even at $440, Pak’s gift to the mayor is illegal because it violates the city’s ban on accepting gifts from “restricted sources.”

Since 2007, no city officer or employee can accept a gift from someone who “who does business with or seeks to do business with the department of the officer or employee,” or anyone who during the last 12 months “attempted to influence the particular officer or employee in any legislative or administrative action.”

Pak, one of Lee’s longtime friends and someone who helped convince him to drop his promise to be a one-year caretaker and run for a full term, is viewed by some City Hall watchers as often trying to influence the mayor on issues, including appointments to commissions and boards.

In September, Pak acknowledged to The Chronicle that she called the mayor’s office to stop the then-head of his Office of Economic and Workforce Development from hiring a staffer that Pak disliked. The job offer was rescinded. Pak later told San Francisco Magazine: “I’m very proud of it, and I’d do it again.”

Golinger, in his complaint, said that episode qualified Pak as a “restricted source.”

Pak could not be reached for comment as she traveled in China. Falvey dismissed the complaints as the handiwork of a few regular malcontents who are trying to distract from a trip where the mayor is promoting cultural connections and introducing the burgeoning Chinese middle-class market to San Francisco-made products like TCHO chocolate and DODO, cases for tablets and smartphones.

“We publicly disclosed in great detail the purpose of the trip and those who contributed to it,” Falvey said. “We’ve exceeded reporting requirements in the spirit of transparency. People know exactly why he’s going and who he’s traveling with.”

Who he is traveling with — including a few top city officials, the primary developer for the Hunters Point shipyard and Treasure Island, and construction figures that have had city contracts — is part of the problem, as Golinger sees it.

“It’s certainly troubling that a small cadre of influential people are getting extreme access to the highest elected official in the city, which regular San Franciscans don’t have, simply by virtue of writing a check,” he said.



Lobbyist Pak Leads Mayor Lee’s Trip to China

Mayor Ed Lee to seek housing project funds in first trip to China

By: Chris Roberts | 03/29/13
Negotiations over San Francisco’s biggest redevelopment projects in a generation — and just how involved state-owned Chinese enterprises will be in building them — are expected to be a key part of Ed Lee’s first visit to China as mayor, which begins today.

Lee is expected to sit down with officials from the China Development Bank during his eight-day trip to the People’s Republic of China. Over two days in Beijing, the Chinese-American mayor also will meet with key political leadership, which just changed hands.

Homebuilder Lennar Urban, which has development rights to construct more than 10,000 units at the former naval installations at Hunters Point and Treasure Island, is seeking a 
$1.7 billion loan from the state-owned bank. Lee said Thursday that he hopes his visit can help the two parties “get closer” to finalizing the deal.

Lennar declined to comment on loan negotiations, but sources close to the deal say that the traditional Chinese caveat of employing state-owned Chinese construction firms on state-funded projects is delaying the deal. In this case, the Chinese Railway Construction Corporation — which recently finished a light-rail system in Saudi Arabia — is said to be pursuing the San Francisco construction contracts.

The massive developments would be the first American projects for the Chinese corporation and its first work for a private company, sources said.

If such a deal were concluded, it could become the blueprint for an entire wave of Chinese investment in the United States.

Other major California construction projects, such as the statewide high-speed rail system and development projects near the future Transbay Transit Terminal, are also said to be seeking Chinese investors, media reports and sources indicate.

The scope of Lee’s role in the negotiations in unclear, but sources said he is highly regarded by Chinese political leaders and development bank officials. And he’ll have some high-powered traveling companions. Former Mayor Willie Brown is one of 30 fellow travelers, while trip leader Rose Pak, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s omnipresent consultant, is already in China.

No city supervisors were invited, sources said. But Lee already has one other friend in Beijing, his Seattle high school classmate Gary Locke, the former Washington governor and current U.S. ambassador to China. Both trace their ancestral roots to Taishan, the home village of Lee’s father, where Lee will be honored with the “red carpet.”

Lee will fly to Hong Kong before traveling to Beijing, where he’ll speak to students at Tsinghua University and meet government officials. He’ll then travel to the southern province of Guangdong, where he’ll meet more politicians and attempt to woo Southern China Airlines to San Francisco International Airport. The mayor will then head to Taishan before returning to San Francisco from Macau on April 7.

Lee, who is planning up to three trips to China this year, also will court Chinese investment in technology and biotechnology companies.

The new Chinese government led by Xi Jinping is very interested in investing overseas and encouraging business relationships with the U.S., says Darlene Chiu Bryant, who heads the ChinaSF office at the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.

Lee has cultivated ties with China since the first days of his administration. He attended a state dinner in Washington, D.C. for Hu Jintao, the outgoing general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, shortly after taking office in 2011.

The mayor plans to present Chinese officials with the gift of San Francisco-made iPad cases.


Bay Citizen: Lobbyist/Consultant Resigns Over Stow Lake Ethics Controversy

Herrera Consultant Tourk Resigns

Gerry Shih ~ May 10, 2011

Alex Tourk, a consultant for City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s mayoral campaign, resigned Tuesday morning amid mounting press scrutiny of his lobbying activities, Herrera campaign spokeswoman Jill Nelson confirmed.

Tourk’s resignation came a day after the Bay Citizen and the San Francisco Chronicle reported that he apparently failed to disclose lobbying contacts he made with park commissioners on behalf of a company seeking concession rights at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. Failure to disclose lobbying contacts is a violation of city law that carries a penalty of $10,000 per instance.

“A series of newspaper stories about the recent work of my firm, Ground Floor Public Affairs, have become an unnecessary distraction for the campaign,” Tourk said in a statement shortly before noon Tuesday. “Dennis Herrera needs to continue spending his time articulating his inspiring vision for making San Francisco work. Any time spent answering questions about me and my firm take him away from that important task.”

The reports about his apparent violations published on Tuesday followed a series of articles last week focusing on Tourk’s lobbying practices, which first came to light after a cache of private e-mails related to the Stow Lake bid were made public as part of a lawsuit.

In addition, The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week that Tourk had lobbied Herrera about several city projects while also working for him as a campaign consultant, an apparent violation of city ethics laws.

Read the full story:  http://www.baycitizen.org/blogs/pulse-of-the-bay/herrera-consultant-tourk-resigns/

SF Chronicle: Documents expose scheme to win Stow Lake vendor contract

San Francisco Chronicle

S.F. Stow Lake vendor bid e-mails raise questions

Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, May 2, 2011

The boathouse at Stow Lake with concession stand on left ...

Employees of the San Francisco park department and a well-connected lobbyist worked together to help an out-of-town vendor win the contract to run the Stow Lake food and boat concession, a controversial deal that has critics fuming over potential changes at the historic Golden Gate Park facility.

Private e-mails made public as part of a lawsuit over that concession agreement reveal tactics the lobbyist and staffers used to help woo city officials, stack public meetings with supporters and manipulate media coverage.

The vendor, New Mexico-based Ortega Family Enterprises, hired lobbyist Alex Tourk this past summer after an independent selection panel convened by the Recreation and Park Department recommended the company’s bid to run the boathouse.

Park department employees recommended that Ortega consider hiring a lobbyist and suggested Tourk, a former aide and political adviser to then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, according to a court declaration written by Nick Kinsey, the department’s assistant director of property management. Kinsey said the suggestion was made in light of the brewing opposition.

“Ortega could benefit from hiring a San Francisco-based consulting firm for the remaining public process at the commission and the Board of Supervisors,” he stated.

At that time, the current vendor, Bruce McClellan, who had hired a lobbyist of his own, was campaigning to stay in business and keep Ortega out, and a grassroots group, Save the Stow Lake Boathouse Coalition, was fighting to keep McClellan in place.

McClellan, whose family has run the boat-rental business and snack stand since the 1940s, has sued the city and Ortega Family Enterprises. His attorneys say the e-mails show the contract-awarding process was corrupt. City officials said they selected Ortega based on its proposal to fix up the old boathouse and improve the food offerings and rental boats.

Both sides are due to return to court in two weeks.

Read the full story:  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/02/BA6I1JAQ1E.DTL&tsp=1

Guardian: New Ethics Reform Needed

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Seeking a watchdog’s watchdog

Supervisors reject Ethics Commission candidate who has agitated for reform

04.12.11 –  | Rebecca Bowe|

When cash pumps through the guts of city politics, the Ethics Commission is charged with keeping track of it all to help members of the public follow the money. But what happens when the public loses faith in the ethics of the Ethics Commission?

In the run-up to a hotly contested mayoral race, in a city marked by rough-and-tumble politics influenced by moneyed power brokers, the function of this local-government watchdog agency is especially critical — and to hear some critics tell it, the Ethics Commission needs reform if it is to perform as an effective safeguard against corruption.

Read the full story:  http://www.sfbg.com/2011/04/12/seeking-watchdogs-watchdog

Proposal to expand Ethics exemption to Supervisors rejected

San Francisco Bay Guardian 

Ethics Commissioner:  No surprises, please

04.12.11 – | Rebecca Bowe |

The San Francisco Ethics Commission voted unanimously on April 11 to amend a post-employment ban under the city’s Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code, creating a provision that’s designed to allow Mayor Ed Lee to resume his post as City Administrator following the completion of his term as interim mayor.

The change allows an appointed mayor to obtain city employment immediately after serving out a term, provided that he or she doesn’t pull papers to run for office, was previously employed by the city, and doesn’t receive a salary that’s higher than the last year of city employment prior to taking office. The amendment builds in an exception to a rule banning the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors from obtaining city employment for one year after leaving office.

Ethics Commission staff had recommended that this provision be expanded to apply to appointed members of the Board of Supervisors. While Mayor Lee’s circumstance is a rare occurrence, supervisors are appointed far more often. “The underlying ordinance applies only to the mayor and the board, so we thought, why just do one, why not do both?” Ethics Commission director John St. Croix explained.

But a couple commissioners took issue with that idea, saying it was too far outside the scope of the law that voters enacted, and it ultimately did not win approval. “I don’t see the compelling reason to include the supervisors,” noted commissioner Charles Ward, “and I expect that members of the public are going to be awfully surprised. As a member of the public, I’d be surprised myself.”


Guardian: Rule change for Mayor Ed Lee could expand beyond special case

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Rule change for Mayor Ed Lee could expand beyond special case

04.11.11 – 3:17 pm | Rebecca Bowe |

Last week, the Guardian reported on the Ethics Commission’s decision to waive two post-employment bans for city officials in order to allow mayoral staffer Kyri McClellan to take a job as executive director of the America’s Cup Organizing Committee, a role that will put her into direct contact with the same office she’s departing from as a representative of private-sector interests.

The April 11 Ethics Commission meeting will feature another discussion on whether to bend the rules on post-employment for city officials.

Shortly after former City Administrator Ed Lee was appointed as interim Mayor, Board President David Chiu introduced legislation that would modify post-employment restrictions to allow Lee to go back to his former job directly after serving out his mayoral term. Under the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code, the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors must wait a full year after serving office to obtain employment with the city. Unlike in McClellan’s case, this rule cannot be waived for an interim mayor, so the law must to be changed to include an exception to accommodate Lee in this special case.

As it stands, “This rule is designed to restrict these elected officials from using their influence to create golden parachutes as they leave office,” according to a memo issued by Ethics Commission Deputy Executive Director Mabel Ng.

Yet Ng’s memo proposes expanding the reach of the rule change, advocating for it to apply not only to an interim mayor but any appointed member of the Board of Supervisors who does not plan to seek office after filling out a term.

“If the commission approves this legislation, staff recommends that the Commission also extend the exception to a member of the Board of Supervisors in the same circumstances,” Ng’s memo notes. “Staff makes this recommendation because the same arguments supporting an exception for appointed mayors like Mayor Lee apply equally to appointed members of the board.”

Not so fast, says Jon Golinger of San Franciscans for Clean Government, who issued a press release warning of the possible rule change on April 11. While Lee’s case is rare indeed, supervisors are appointed to fill vacant seats far more frequently, Golinger pointed out. “It introduces a whole new level of uncertainty and political abuse,” he charged. “We don’t want our top officials playing games with public funds so that they can have a job with the city” after leaving office.

Golinger said his group thought the provision that would allow for Lee to resume his old post should include a sunset clause to make it a temporary change, since in his view, “there’s no reason that should be a permanent change.”

As for going a step further to include appointed members of the board, “It’s a major change,” Golinger said, “and it does raise the broader issue of whether Ethics Commission reform is needed.”

In order to be approved, the rule change would have to win at least four votes at the Ethics Commission and at least eight votes at the Board of Supervisors.

Ng’s memo noted that a representative of Chiu’s office would attend the April 11 meeting and respond to questions from staff about the proposed legislation to create an exemption from the post-employment ban for Lee. Reached by phone, Chiu’s legislative aide Judson True said his office had not yet formed an opinion on whether the rule change ought to be extended to the Board of Supervisors.


SF Ethics Officials Propose Broad Expansion of Exemption to City Ethics Laws Prohibiting “Golden Parachutes”

Under a plan to be voted on by the San Francisco Ethics Commission, a narrowly crafted exemption to city ethics rules to allow Interim Mayor Ed Lee to return to his post as City Administrator next year would be dramatically expanded to allow all appointed members of the Board of Supervisors to potentially circumvent post-employment job restrictions that have been city law since 1932.  If the Ethics Commission approves the proposal, it would then go to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

The new proposal would exempt any appointed Mayor and all appointed members of the Board of Supervisors who decline to run for election to their office from a long-standing city ethics rule prohibiting them from obtaining full-time, compensated employment with the city for one year after their last day of service.  That ethics law, Section 3.234(b) of the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code, was first enacted as part of the City Charter in 1932 as part of a citywide anti-corruption reform movement.  The law is designed to prohibit public officials from trying to create “golden parachutes” for themselves – lucrative city jobs that would be awaiting them once they left office.

In an April 6 memorandum, San Francisco Ethics Commission Deputy Executive Director Mabel Ng asserted that the ethics exemption should apply to members of the Board of Supervisors because “the same arguments supporting an exception for appointed Mayors like Mayor Lee apply equally to appointed members of the Board.”  However, while over the past 30 years there has been only one appointed San Francisco Mayor, there were 14 appointed members of the Board of Supervisors, an average of one nearly every other year.

Read the April 6 Ethics Commission staff memorandum here:   post_employment_mayor_appt_1.2011_packet

Guardian: America’s Cup Ethics Waiver Raises Questions

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Mayoral staff member to direct America’s Cup Organizing Committee

04.07.11 -| Rebecca Bowe |

The San Francisco Ethics Commission voted unanimously on March 14 to waive a pair of ethics rules in order to allow Kyri McClellan, a project manager in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), to become executive director of the nonprofit America’s Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC). The fundraising arm of the America’s Cup effort, ACOC’s role in bringing the world-famous sailing regatta to San Francisco is to secure corporate donations to offset city costs . . .

And what justification was given for waiving the ban on former employees receiving compensation from city contractors?  ‘For that one, in the law itself, it says the commission may waive it … if it would cause extreme hardship,’ Ng explained. ‘There would be a hardship, because … this is a great opportunity for her, and there was a short timeline for her to do it.’

Pressed on that point, Ng confirmed that the ‘hardship’ in this case was the possibility of being barred from a great job opportunity, not the threat of financial impact or job loss.”

For the full story:  http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2011/04/07/mayoral-staff-member-direct-americas-cup-organizing-committee

SF Examiner: Wiener Wants to Limit Voice of Voters

Proposal would let supes repeal San Francisco ballot measures

By: Joshua Sabatini
Examiner Staff Writer

The Board of Supervisors could change or even repeal voter-approved ordinances, years after their initial passage, under a charter amendment Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced Tuesday for the November ballot.

Wiener said he is proposing the measure in response to criticism about the number of ballot measures, such as, “Why can’t the Board of Supervisors do its job and pass legislation without asking us to pass it for you?”

If approved, he said it would reduce the number of ballot measures and make “government more flexible.”