SF Chronicle: Mayoral campaign funding raises questions

San Francisco Chronicle

Mayoral rivals’ funding legal but controversial

John Coté,  Carla Marinucci,  Chronicle Staff Writers

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee wasn’t officially running to be the next mayor of San Francisco when he spent an eye-popping $1.1 million in one year on his 2010 re-election bid – a race where he faced no primary battle and no serious general election competition.

A Chronicle analysis of Yee’s financial disclosure forms shows that he paid more than $471,000 in the 2010 election cycle to his San Francisco-based political consultant, Jim Stearns, now his strategist in the mayor’s race. That is nearly 15 times what Stearns earned for handling another uncompetitive race in the same city, that of Sen. Tom Ammiano.

Yee also paid almost $121,000 to San Francisco pollster Ben Tulchin in 2010. That’s nearly as much as former Mayor Gavin Newsom paid to the same firm for work on his vigorously contested statewide bid for lieutenant governor, records show. Yee’s controversial spending is unparalleled among the eight serious contenders to become San Francisco’s next mayor. His tactics – while apparently legal – effectively circumvented tougher local campaign finance laws, watchdog groups and critics say. Other mayoral hopefuls – City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu – have also drawn questions over campaign funding.

San Francisco bans contributions from corporations to mayoral candidates, caps individual donations at $500 apiece, and forbids city officials from accepting donations from entities with contracts of $50,000 or more before that official for approval or within six months of the contract being signed.

State law has much higher caps on donations to candidates and no ban on corporate donors, allowing candidates to lay the groundwork for their mayoral campaigns by tapping companies and political action committees for large donations that are barred under San Francisco’s rules, analysts said.

“The city of San Francisco banned big contributions to prevent exactly that type of influence peddling,” said Jamie Court, head of Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, a bipartisan nonprofit that monitors campaign issues and political donations.

Read the full story:  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/03/27/MNUD1IDS8M.DTL

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NY Times: SF Sunshine Ordinance Needs Fixing

New York Times

Sunshine Ordinance, Now 17 Years Old, Still Has Baby Teeth

March 18, 2011

By SCOTT JAMES

For some, these are dark days for San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance.

The measure, which was meant to foster transparency in city government, has instead devolved into the Rodney Dangerfield of rule books — it don’t get no respect. Despite violations, no city employee has been disciplined for failing to abide by the ordinance, which requires that city dealings be open to public review — including many documents, officials’ schedules and meetings.

The ordinance took effect in 1994. It is a way to hold city officials accountable, and an alternative to costly civil lawsuits to obtain public records. An 11-member volunteer citizen panel, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, enforces the ordinance. Since it took effect, 27 instances of serious violations requiring disciplinary action have been cited, according to the citizen panel, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

But those cases have been dismissed or moved into bureaucratic oblivion by the Ethics Commission, which is responsible for punishing sunshine violators.

“The Ethics Commission doesn’t do anything,” said Allyson Washburn, a member of the task force. “They don’t enforce our orders of determination.”

Without consequences for violations, Ms. Washburn said, the ordinance lacks teeth.

Richard Knee, chairman of the task force, said the Ethics Commission was adversarial.

As a result, the task force is trying to change the ordinance to limit the commission’s role and impose fines of up to $5,000 against city workers for violations, money that would be paid out of their own pockets. The change would require voter approval.

Some city leaders, however, feel under attack.

Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the city attorney’s office, said in an e-mail, “The task force has degenerated into a rogue, lawless jury that beats up on city departments and tries to get conscientious public employees fired.”

Mr. Dorsey and other city public information managers said they spent an extraordinary amount of time and resources complying with the ordinance. They described task force hearings as a tedious kangaroo court.

John St. Croix, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said that the work of the task force often lacked due process and that his department had “an obligation to review the cases.”

Asked about the 27 cases that have gone nowhere, Mr. St. Croix said 14 were dismissed based on advice from the city attorney’s office that other laws took precedence over the ordinance, 12 others remained under review and one was referred elsewhere and apparently ended without action.

Interviews with about a dozen key figures — including city leaders and sunshine advocates — revealed a long list of reasons for current aggravations: legal loopholes, personality conflicts, city efforts to prevent embarrassing revelations and a misunderstanding of the ordinance’s scope.

Nevertheless, the ordinance can be effective.

Dorian Maxwell, a city transit worker, was denied access to his complete personnel file until the task force intervened. It took the case in October, and at a March 8 hearing the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency finally produced documents whose existence it had previously denied.

In the spectator gallery, Mr. Maxwell’s eyes welled as he flipped through the pages, upset by what he called false information in his file.

Hope Johnson, a task force member, strongly criticized the transit agency for what she called “egregious” behavior in Mr. Maxwell’s case.

Paul Rose, spokesman for the agency, said, “We absolutely care about the Sunshine Ordinance and respond on a daily basis.”

But not always in a timely manner. Two recent Sunshine Ordinance requests made to the agency by The Bay Citizen were not fulfilled in accordance with the ordinance’s 15-day deadline. One request, filed Jan. 21, for records regarding dangerous cycling lanes, was complied with last week — after the agency was informed that a failure to disclose would be reported in this column.

Mr. Rose said the agency tracked its success rate for complying with the ordinance, but he did not respond to a request to make that information public.

If all of this sounds like an ordeal, well, that might just be the point.

Bruce B. Brugmann, editor and publisher of the firebrand San Francisco Bay Guardian weekly newspaper, helped create the ordinance. Mr. Brugmann said that the ordinance and task force hearings put public officials in an uncomfortable spotlight, and that was often enough to produce results.

“It’s an evolving document,” Mr. Brugmann said, noting that the ordinance had already been strengthened once, 1999. He welcomed the new efforts to make punishments for violations more likely.

“It’s a way for citizens to get some relief,” he said, “and some accountability at City Hall.”

Scott James is an Emmy-winning television journalist and novelist who lives in San Francisco.
sjames@baycitizen.org

A version of this article appeared in print on March 18, 2011, on page A25A of the National edition.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/18/us/18bcjames.html

 

Guardian: Dozens of Unregistered Lobbyists Influencing SF City Hall

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Unregistered lobbyist

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ISSUE:

Former Mayor Willie Brown is a powerful advocate for private interests — but he flouts lobbyist registration laws

03.16.11 | Tim Redmond

In 2007 and 2008, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. paid former Mayor Willie Brown a total of $480,000 for consulting work. Since Brown has never been utility lawyer, it’s almost certain that money has bought political advice and access.

Brown is also working for the owners of the Fairmont Hotel, which wants to tear down one of its towers and build as many as 180 luxury condos.

His public affairs institute shares office space with one of the most powerful lobbying firms in town. He meets with or talks regularly with the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors.

Yet unlike dozens of others who seek to influence public policy for hire, Brown is not registered as a lobbyist at City Hall.

On the surface, it’s a fairly modest issue — all Brown would have to do to comply with the letter and spirit of the city’s law is to fill out a form, list his clients, and reveal which officials he’s been talking to. It would take him 10 minutes.

But the fact that someone who is widely acknowledged to be among the most influential power brokers in San Francisco refuses to disclose whom he’s working for leaves city officials and the public in the dark — and raises a long list of questions about the effectiveness of the city’s ethics laws.

Read the full story:  http://www.sfbg.com/2011/03/15/unregistered-lobbyist

Guardian: Close the Willie Brown Lobbyist Loophole

San Francisco Bay Guardian

The lobbyist loophole

March 16, 2011
EDITORIAL As the stories in this issue show, open government laws are critical to democracy. Without the city’s sunshine law, we wouldn’t know how the proposal to give Twitter a tax break ballooned into a major giveaway. Without the sunshine laws, Tim Crews, the embattled publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, wouldn’t have been able to use his small paper to hold public officials accountable.

 

That’s why the laws on the books need to be enforced — and sometimes strengthened. One example in San Francisco is the lobbyist registration requirement.

Here’s the problem: Former Mayor Willie Brown, who now works for at least two major outfits with business before City Hall. As Tim Redmond reports on page 10, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. paid Brown some $480,000 in 2007 and 2008. And although Brown is a lawyer, nobody can honestly believe that was for legal work. He was clearly paid to give the embattled utility political advice and to pull political strings. And PG&E has major interests at City Hall — San Francisco is trying to set up a community choice aggregation system that PG&E opposes, and (of course) the utility has spent almost 90 years trying to block public power in this town. There are dozens of other city issues, from facility safety to the franchise fee, that affect PG&E’s bottom line.

Has Brown tried to influence city officials on behalf of the utility? The public has no way to know. By law, any individual who lobbies for a private client (and earns more than $3,000 a quarter doing so) has to register with the Ethics Commission, reveal his or her clients, and report on all contacts with city officials. Brown has never done that.

Brown also works for the owners of the Fairmont Hotel, who want the right to convert hotel rooms to condos. Mayor Ed Lee just submitted legislation giving the hoteliers what they want, and Brown is Lee’s political mentor. Connection?

The public has a right to know who’s trying to do what deals behind closed doors; that’s why the city has a lobbyist registration law. The voters have a right to know whether lobbyists are giving money to elected officials; that’s why the law requires registered lobbyists to itemize those contributions. But it’s not always honored — and as Brown shows, it can be openly defied. And nothing happens.

Part of the problem is that the Ethics Commission has been far too lax in pursuing enforcement of the laws. The agency lacks the resources to do serious investigations. As a result, its director John St. Croix told us, all the staff can do is respond to complaints. But even with the limited money it has, the commission can do a lot more. Public hearings on the failures of lobbyist registration and campaign contribution reporting would be a good first step. And how hard would it be to cross-check campaign filings with lobbyist filings to see which lobbyists don’t properly report their contributions? A simple computer program could do that in a few minutes.

The commission also needs to do a better job making its funding case to the supervisors. The utter lack of serious enforcement of laws involving powerful interests doesn’t instill confidence in the agency.

But the law is also vague in parts, and the supervisors need to fix it. A clearer definition of “lobbyist” is a clear mandate. And enforcement needs to be increased. Willful violation of the state’s Political Reform Act is a misdemeanor crime. Violating the city’s lobbyist law should be too.

http://www.sfbg.com/2011/03/15/lobbyist-loophole

Examiner: SF Officials “testing” electric bikes for two years raises ethical questions

By: Joshua Sabatini 03/10/11
Examiner Staff Writer
Electric bikes
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu was provided with an electric bicycle by mountain bike guru Gary Fisher in 2009.

Two prominent elected officials seeking higher office have seemingly ridden around local gift rules to enjoy innovative electric-assist bicycles.

Both Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who is running for mayor, and District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who is running for sheriff, were provided with electric-assisted Trek mountain bikes by mountain bike guru Gary Fisher in July 2009.

Neither Chiu nor Mirkarimi listed the bicycles as gifts on required annual gift disclosure filings with the Ethics Commission covering the year 2009. Both told the San Francisco Examiner this week they don’t consider them gifts or loans.

The bikes sell for more than $2,000. Elected officials and candidates for local elective office “may not accept gifts of more than $420 from a single source in a calendar year” and gifts of $50 or more must be reported on the statements of economic interests, according to the City Attorney’s Good Government Guide.

Chiu, who has been mentioned in news reports as using the electric bike, said that Fisher routinely picks people to “beta test” his products.

Chiu said that some time in 2010 he requested an invoice from Fisher for use of the bike beyond beta-testing. Chiu said he paid Fisher $400 last month based on that invoice.

“I don’t believe any gift was provided while I beta-tested and then paid for the temporary use of a bike,” Chiu said Wednesday.

Mirkarimi said he hasn’t used his bike for at least nine months. “It’s Gary Fisher’s as far as I’m concerned,” he said Tuesday. “He’s welcome to come by and pick it up at any point.”

The arrangement is unusual, said Robert Stern, the president of the Center for Governmental Studies and an ethics expert.

“Paying the $400 was very appropriate by Chiu,” Stern said, adding, however, that it probably should have been done earlier.

“The other official should do the same thing,” Stern said. Fisher was unavailable for comment.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2011/03/san-francisco-officials-testing-electric-bikes-two-years-raises-questions#ixzz1GECHYqFE

SF Chronicle: Money flows to Mayoral race from outside SF

San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

[Mayoral] candidates have raised plenty of money from outside the city, with 42 percent of all the contributions flowing to mayoral campaigns during 2009 and 2010 coming from people who don’t live in San Francisco, according to a report released today by a relatively new grassroots good-government group called San Franciscans for Clean Government.  Their analysis only looked at contributions of $100 or more, which candidates are required to report along with donor information including a city and ZIP code.

Venture capitalist Joanna Rees — whose contributors include musician Quincy Jones and Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith — has raised 64 percent of her more than $153,000 from outside San Francisco, the report found.  Assessor Phil Ting was next up with 53 percent of his $52,400 from outside donors, the report said.  Dufty had the smallest share, with only 15 percent of his campaign funds coming from non-San Francisco residents.

 

Show me the Money: New Study Exposes Outside Influence in San Francisco Politics


By Luke Thomas 

March 1, 2011

A new study by San Franciscans for Clean Government exposes the influence of campaign contributions from non-San Francisco resident sources.

The analysis examined campaign finance disclosures filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission between January 1, 2009 and January 31, 2011 by candidates for San Francisco Mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

“When candidates raise money from outside their districts they have to divert their precious time and attention away from the needs of the constituents they are running to represent,” said attorney Jon Golinger, spokesman for San Franciscans for Clean Government. “These big donations inevitably raise the question: What are these outside donors expecting for their money?”

In this year’s race for mayor, Businesswoman Joanna Rees tops the list in outside contributions. According to the analysis, 64 percent of Rees’ contributions have been sourced to non-San Francisco residents, followed by Assessor-Record Phil Ting with 53 percent of contributions raised from non-San Francisco donors.

In last year’s races for District supervisor, District 4 Supervisor Carmen Chu tops the list with a whopping 92 percent of contributions from outside sources, followed by District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen (86 percent) and District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim (82 percent).

“Voters should encourage candidates to spend most of their time, attention, and campaign efforts reaching out to their constituents, rather than to interests and individuals from outside their districts,” concluded Golinger. “San Francisco’s campaign laws should be revamped to incentivize candidates to raise most of their money from the people they are running to represent rather than from outside donors.”

http://www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/2670/show-me-the-money-new-study-exposes-outside-influence-in-san-francisco-politics/

Download New Report: “Outside Influence”

Click here to download new report:  OutsideInfluence

SF Weekly: S.F’s Chinese New Year Parade Controversy

Welcome to sfweekly.com

Wednesday, Feb 9 2011

[Rose] Pak is often described as a “consultant” for the chamber, and she signed her name as its representative on travel gift forms required by the San Francisco Ethics Commission. Pak’s political advocacy is often described as lobbying. But she is not registered as a lobbyist with the ethics commission, and her pay does not show up on the chamber’s public filings. As for the more than $18,000 the group spent on travel gifts to politicians in 2009 — that does not appear on the nonprofit’s public filings, either.

A representative for the watchdog group Charity Navigator, who had an attorney review the chamber’s tax forms for me, said: “If they have paid for a lobbyist, and are funding political activities, then they probably need to report it.” Pak did not respond to questions about the possible discrepancy.

Read The Full Article at:  http://www.sfweekly.com/2011-02-09/news/chinese-new-year-san-francisco-controversy-funding-rose-pak-arnold-chin/

Chronicle: Questions about employees donating to boss’s campaign

San Francisco Chronicle

Many Herrera staffers contribute to his campaign

John Coté, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More than 70 staffers in San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera‘s office have contributed $21,000 to his campaign for mayor, finance records show, raising questions from good government groups about the potential for impropriety when employees donate to their boss’ political efforts.