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An Open Letter to the Board and Mayor

by Larry Bush on 09/22/2011

in DIY

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE BOARD AND THE MAYOR

Next Tuesday the Board of Supervisors will go into Executive Session to consider amending the city’s Public Finance program in view of a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that found Arizona’s full public finance program to have constitutional problems.

San Francisco’s partial public finance program is rumored to be threatened with an expensive lawsuit although no lawsuit has been filed nor has any group announced that it will definitely file a lawsuit.

But based on rumors and threats without a single dollar being spent to overturn San Francisco’ s system, and at the urging of a Board of Supervisor member who benefited from outside spending in excess of $200,000 last November, the city is preparing to enact changes to allow unlimited spending by deep pocket outside interests intent on tilting the November election in their favor. The current system that allows public funding to rebalance the tilt toward special interest money would be ended.

The fact that this stampede takes place after the rules have been set for this election, after the candidates have operated under those rules for more than a year, and with weeks left until voters decide on a new mayor, is no accident.  Nor is the fact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that touches on aspects of San Francisco’s law sufficient reason to rush to do the bidding of political operatives who have a stake in ensuring that the result benefits their clients.

They hope that the Board of Supervisors will pay no heed to the consequences for San Franciscans, and instead dress their self-interest in the robes of a constitutional crisis.

Whether the Board will defeat the effort to interrupt San Francisco’s election rules in the final weeks of an election remains to be seen. It will require four supervisors to decline to vote for their change to postpone action, with it unlikely that the special interests will be able to win the changes they seek through other means before the November election.

That alone is reason to pause and take a more thoughtful and open process toward resolving the issue of San Francisco’s public financing system following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Yet there are other choices beside an up or down vote on this proposal.

The Board could squarely face the consequences of such an action in mid-election and take other steps to lessen the impact of special interest money in the November election.

CitiReport urges the Board to immediately enact provisions to force into the open the flow of special interest money in this election and to rein in the pay-to-play politics that is coming to dominate City Hall.

1.)  San Francisco’s law banning political contributions from those seeking a city contract should be immediately amended to also ban contractors and those seeking contracts from soliciting contributions from others, being an intermediary for contributions, or bundling contributions. Amazingly, San Francisco allows contractors to arrange fundraisers and collect money so long as they themselves do not write a check. Federal law prohibits this pay-to-play tactic but San Francisco does not.

2.)  San Francisco’s law banning political contributions from contractors and those seeking contracts should immediately be amended to include those who seek City Hall action that benefits them financially, including development agreements, variances for their specific project, tax benefits unique to them, permits, grants and other city approvals that enrich them. San Franciscans already voted to ban such sources of contributions when voters passed Proposition J in 2000, but a later Board action rewrote the rules to open loopholes in the law. The loopholes should be closed now.

3.)  San Francisco’s disclosure laws should require disclosure of the names of those who serve on a candidate or ballot measure’s finance committee or who are designated as fundraisers. Currently the public gets only a glimpse of who the heavy hitters are holding fundraisers or serving as intermediaries and soliciting contributions when an event makes the society pages. Mayor Lee was asked repeatedly during his interview whether he would release the names of those on his finance committee during his interview with the San Francisco Examiner. He replied that he would do what the law requires. The law should require him and all other candidates to publicly disclose these finance members and file immediate amendments when a new person is added.

4.)  San Francisco’s disclosure laws should immediately be amended to close the loophole that allows hundreds of thousands of dollars in last minute contributions to remain hidden from the public before the election. San Francisco uses the state rule of disclosures of contributions of $1,000 or more within 24 hours during the final critical period before an election. At the same time, San Francisco sets the contribution limits for candidates at $500.00 The result is that in San Francisco there is no reporting of these contributions, which in past elections have totaled between one-third and one-half of all contributions, until months after the election is over. The law should be amended to require immediate disclosure during this period of all contributors who make or aggregate $250 to a candidate.

5.)  San Francisco’s disclosure laws should be immediately amended to end the “reporting holiday” that keeps the public from having information on contributors and spending by those designated as “state committees” or independent expenditure committees who are involved in San Francisco elections. Under state reporting rules, these committees only file during even number years, but San Francisco’s mayor’s election is in an odd numbered year. These committees don’t report their activity until more than a year after the election. That should end at once. The California Fair Political Practices Commission wrote to the San Francisco Ethics Commission that the city has the authority to enact this requirement, but the Ethics Commission has declined to act.

6.)  San Francisco’s Board should immediately direct the Ethics Commission to make it a priority to enforce the current law prohibiting officers and executives of businesses and nonprofits who receive city funding, either in grants or contracts, from making contributions to candidates who decide on their grants or contracts. The Ethics Commission has never enforced this law and even sought to amend it so that it no longer applies for some. There can be no excuse for failure to enforce a law that protects the public from pay-to-play politics. CitiReport gave readers an extensive review of violations of this law, and the Ethics Commission continued not to act.

These six immediate action items will not compensate for a rush to end the important provisions of San Francisco’s public finance system in the closing weeks of the election, but they can add some protections against pay-to-play politics that are the heart of special interest politics.

They should be passed as urgency measures to go into effect at once.

Earlier CitiReport asked mayoral candidates whether they supported a number of these proposals, and in nearly every case, candidates responded favorably.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera noted that he voted in favor of Proposition J in 2000 and would work on reforms now.

Board President Chiu stated he would be open to supporting a measure that would ban contributions from a business that benefits financially from a city decision so long as that decision was specific to that business.

Supervisor Avalos stated he would be willing to introduce such a measure.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi wrote that he “would certainly support this.”

State Senator Leland Yee wrote he would be willing to introduce it, noting “Clearly, the voters approved and agreed with Proposition J and San Francisco should adhere to the spirit, intent and letter of the law.”

Former Supervisor Tony Hall responded that he would introduce such a measure. Former Supervisor Bevan Dufty reasserted his view that City Hall decisions should not be influenced.

CitiReport also asked mayoral candidates whether they felt the Ethics Commission was succeeding in its mission. Not a single candidate stated that they are satisfied with its performance, and most called for stronger action, ranging from fuller funding to serious enforcement of San Francisco’s ethics laws.

That is an important factor in adopting these urgent actions, and as the Board also takes up the Civil Grand Jury report on the Ethics Commission as a “Sleeping Watchdog,” the Board should make clear that it will not accept token improvements in a broken system but is looking for leadership and action, which has not been evident to date.

San Francisco’s mayor’s election has serious consequences for the city’s future. It is clear from the rush to overturn our existing laws that rebalance the influence of special interest money that the deep pocket interests are worried that they will have to engage City Hall on an even playing field rather than one they control.

That is the one overriding issue before the Board as it deliberates on a plan to change our city’s public finance law.

With respect,

 

Larry Bush

CitiReport

 

 

 

 

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Noe Valley October 4, 2011 at 8:07 pm

There’s one major loophole here…the ban on political contributions from those seeking contracts should include public sector labor unions who negotiate with the city and county over pay/benefits. These special interests are as damaging to the fiscal health of the city as real estate developers and other private sector interests.

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Kyra Millich September 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Please post the below letter with an invitation to the public to write a letter to their supervisors before 9/17, if at all possible. Also, like the standwithross facebook page and check regularly for events/actions in support of our sheriff. I’ve sent this to the Chron and Examiner to no effect. Many thanks, Kyra Millich

Dear Supervisor Olague,

As a lawyer, a woman, a long term resident of San Francisco and a former volunteer for the Ed Lee Mayoral campaign, I strongly urge you to vote to reinstate Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. What has happened in City Hall is an abhorrent abuse of power.

San Francisco voters voted Ross into office. Mayor Lee’s unilateral removal of an elected official from office should be limited to situations where the individual commits egregious acts of official misconduct. This situation doesn’t even come close to meeting that standard. It seems clear that the real purpose of Mayor Lee’s action is to remove a political enemy from a position of power. Supporting the removal would eviscerate the democratic process and wipe out every single person’s vote that voted Ross into office.

Having attended the Ethics Commission meeting, I was shocked that Commission members reached their determination despite finding that none of the specific factual allegations of misconduct identified by the Mayor had been proven. Instead of developing any coherent definition of “official misconduct”, the Commissioners appeared to have reached their verdict based solely on the fact that Ross pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment. It was embarrassing to watch the Commission strain to justify their conclusions despite the warnings of Chairman Ben Hur that a vague standard could allow serious abuses of the removal process by the Mayor.

The incident in question occurred before Ross entered into office and predated any performance of his official duties. The approach taken by the four Ethics Commissioners would encourage a fishing expedition into any past indiscretion by an officeholder, no matter how minor, as the basis for a finding of “official misconduct.” How far back in an elected official’s life before entering office can political enemies grasp to oust an official from office? It should be obvious that “official misconduct” only applies to acts committed while the ‘official’ holds an elected office. The standard endorsed by the Ethics Commission is overbroad and would set a chilling and dangerous precedent for every elected official who is a political adversary of the Mayor.

I encourage you to consider whether you might become the victim of a similar overreach by the Mayor. Imagine that you are told, prior to a critical vote by the Board of Supervisors, that a vote against the Mayor could lead to your suspension from office based on a charge of “official misconduct” that is unrelated to your performance of your official duties. Imagine the potential abuse of this power if Mayor Lee’s efforts to remove Sheriff Mirkarimi are successful. I encourage you to take a stand for what’s right with your vote.

In the course of my legal career, I have personally advocated on behalf of a domestic violence victim and removed her from an abusive situation. I have no tolerance for domestic violence. The incident that led to the charges against Ross do not rise to this standard. By all accounts, he grabbed his wife’s arm during a heated exchange for one moment. His wife, Eliana Lopez, has repeatedly stated that she is not afraid of her husband and is shocked by the way this incident has been cited by Mayor Lee and DA Gascon as justification to destroy her family. How can this situation be compared to the kinds of domestic violence that justify the harsh and destructive measures taken by the DA?

The notion that these actions were taken to protect Eliana and her three year-old son would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so tragic. The overreach by DA Gascon and Mayor Lee has done severe damage to the supposed victims (Eliana and Theo) by depriving the family of income and placing them in the public spotlight. Instead of protecting the ‘victims’, the Mayor and the DA have chosen to punish them.

During his career in elected office, Ross has been an advocate for protecting women from domestic violence. Voting to reinstate Ross supports the work he has done on himself and in his community through NOVA and other reform programs to actually improve the lives of those in battered situations and make our families, women and communities safer. As Sheriff, Ross will continue to build progressive reform and rehabilitation programs for ex-offenders to break the cycle of crime in their lives and thereby improve public safety. As a result of realignment, thousands of ex-offenders have been released into our streets. It is therefore crucial, now more than ever, that San Francisco instills a progressive regime of rehabilitation and support to keep our streets safe and our communities thriving.

As your constituent, I would appreciate a letter (publicly or privately) after you have voted as to why you voted the way you did. Now that Mayor Lee has arranged for the Board of Supervisors to vote just before the election, I want to ensure that I vote for an independent supervisor who will not go along with an abuse of power designed to punish political opponents. I trust it will be you.

In solidarity as an intelligent San Franciscan woman who lives in a democracy, please hear my voice.

Sincerely,

Kyra Millich

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