Newsom Begging Nets $1.5 Million; PG&E’s PUC Action

by Larry Bush on 02/08/2011

in Merely Rumors


That’s the apparent view over at the San Francisco Ethics Commission, which first posted, then scrubbed, the public record that outgoing District Attorney Kamala Harris failed to meet the deadline for filing her Statement of Economic Interest as she left office. One day the list of officials who had filed – or, in the case of Harris, had passed the deadline – was posted on the Ethics internet site, and days later she was gone, evaporated, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t.

Harris had 30 days after leaving office to file the statement, a date that passed on February 3. Not to worry. Failure to file never gets a rebuke from San Francisco officials. Instead complaints on that score go to Sacramento, where Harris now serves as Attorney General.


New District Attorney George Gascon was quick to file both his report upon leaving his post as Police Chief and assuming new duties as the District Attorney. That is to say, he was quick to file a form stating he had nothing to file. Really? Seriously? Who was that woman I saw you with? Officials like Gascon are required to file any economic interests that benefits them, including holdings and income from a spouse. Ms. Gascon, better known as Fabiola Kramsky, is a morning anchor and producer on Univision’s Al Despertar as of January, and prior to that was available for voice-overs and other media work. But not a whisper in Gascon’s Statement of Economic Interest.  Just sayin’.


The prize goes to, who else, Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. for his filing with the Internal Revenue Service for the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Institute on Policy and Politics. Among the questions asked on the IRS 990 form is whether the nonprofit has a written Conflict of Interest policy. Brown’s Institute dutifully reports that it does have such a policy. Then come two follow-up questions from the IRS: “Are officers, directors or trustees and key employees required to disclose annually interests that could give rise to conflicts?” and “Does the organization regularly and consistently monitor and enforce compliance with the policy?” The answer to those questions would be “No.” And, just to be completely on the safe side, the Institute answers No to the question “Does the organization have a written Whistleblower policy” and No to the question “Does the organization have a written document and retention policy.”  It’s the Willie Brown version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.


And if so, whose dog is it? Most accounts of the Board battle and now lawsuit over the appointment of Richard Johns to the city’s Historical Preservation Commission suggest that there is nothing more at stake than there is in a pillow fight.  Turns out that there is quite a bit at stake, and some major players are involved. Of course, you knew that once you realized that Johns is a good friend of former mayor (and Chronicle columnist) Willie Brown, Jr. Last year, registered lobbyists contacted the Historical Preservation Commission at least thirty times, including over the SOMA survey plan and the potential uses for the shuttered Mirant Power Plant. And, oh yes, in a decision that rests in part on the Commission, the San Francisco Chronicle hired a lobbyist to seek a reduction in taxes on its Fifth and Mission Street offices, citing the Mills Act provision that can cut property taxes by 40 to 60 percent when preservation efforts are made on buildings that then rent space – as does the Chronicle. The lobbying was to Phil Ting, but the requirement for the tax break is a designation by the Historical Preservation Commission that the building qualifies. That makes Mr. Johns “Johnny on the Spot.”


Can it buy a little hate? One wonders, looking through the list of donors to former mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2008 Swearing-In Committee. Among the top donors was Pacific Gas and Electric, with $15,000 on January 5, 2008. That would be the same day the San Francisco Chronicle reported that PUC Director Susan Leal will be replaced by Ed Harrington, who continues to serve as PUC Director. An unsourced comment by a PUC commissioner later pointed the finger at Leal’s stance on PG&E, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, stating “she pushed too hard for the city to get deeper into the business of generating and transmitting its own electricity, while commissioners had a different agenda.” PG&E’s $15,000 check was solicited by Newsom himself, according to records at the Ethics Commission. In all, Newsom reported asking specific donors for $290,700 in contributions. Included are a number of businesses with issues before the city such as Forest City, BOMA, the Committee on JOBS, ParkMerced, the San Francisco Giants, Yerba Buena Commons and a number of Building Trades unions. Under city law, those seeking contract or actions by city officials are prohibited from donating to political campaigns. During Newsom’s seven years as mayor, he tapped donors to the tune of $1.5 million for his 2004 swearing-in committee, Project Homeless Connect, Sunday Streets, UN Day and other Newsom projects.  Not, one should note, that a quo inevitably follows the quid. In December 2010, for example, BOMA met twice with Newsom to urge him to make the mayor’s appointments to the upcoming Redistricting Commission that will redraw lines for the 2012 supervisors’ seats. Newsom did not follow through.

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