Larry Bush was named an Unsung Hero by San Francisco Tomorrow at its annual Awards Dinner. Below are his remarks:
I came to San Francisco 30 years ago in the first years of the AIDS epidemic.
I was a reporter in Washington, and traveled the country reporting on politics and increasingly on AIDS.
I came to San Francisco because it was the one place, in all the country, during the Reagan years, where I could see that there were people working to alter the course of the epidemic, and that they were empowered to make a difference.
But if we were going to participate in the decisions that affected our lives, we needed someone who would ensure that the door was open for our participation.
That person was Art Agnos, and I was lucky enough to be hired by him and be involved in changing the course of government and the epidemic.
That battle still has to continue, but it is increasingly clear that the fight to be able to participate in the decisions that affect our lives spans every area of government…from environmental reviews like CEQA to the quality of our neighborhoods like respect for historical landmarks to the very basis of our politics.
We are at the edge of a major battle, just as we were in 1984 during the early yearss of the epidemic, to wrest back into our hands the ability to affect our government.
It’s not happenstance.
The fight is over opening up to view the secret power of money in our politics.
Consider just this one fact reported today in the LA Times.
In 1998, nearly 100% of all political donors were identified.
Today that figure is down to 40%.
Some 60% of the money for political influence is “dark” money hidden from us.
Today there are a half dozen or more bills in the State Capitol to open the books of “dark” committees because they don’t let the sunlight through.
And an effort is underway at the SEC and – for the first time in a decade – here in San Francisco with the new reforms from City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Board President David Chiu that will be considered by the Board and the Mayor.
All that moves us in the right direction.
Getting people’s attention is a challenge which is why SFT is so important, and why I am so pleased to be recognized by you tonight.
But for all those who these reforms amount to little more than fixing a comma or just “clarifying” the law, let me give you an example from our own City.
Until 2010 when the Ethics Commission convinced the Board that the city’s lobbyists laws could be made more efficient, there were reports from what were termed “Expenditure” lobbyists – money spent to get the public to echo their message to City Hall.
The last time we had reports on that, here is what you learned:
In just three months in 2009, AT&T spent $10,000 in lobbying but $67,786.97 in “expenditure” lobbying.
PG&E spent $5,000 on lobbying but $65,792 in “expenditure lobbying.
The anti-public power group SF Common Sense Coalition spent nothing on lobbying but $58,110 in expenditure lobbying.
And then the record goes dark.
Because the effect of the Ethics Commission’s little streamlining was to eliminate from public view all that spending.
Just as today we don’t have reports on how much is being spent to influence the public by Mr. Snelgrove on 8 Washington or the Warriors hopes for an arena.
This is why it matters that the Board appoint someone to Ethics tomorrow who understands we can’t have politics as usual.
We need someone who can see the snake in the weeds because Herrera’s and Chiu’s reforms will be meaningless so long as the Ethics Commission is the worst Dark Committee of all.
There is something else we can do about that.
We can enact a provision like Los Angeles and Sacramento that establishes a “private right of action” that lets citizens sue over violations that are being ignored, and to enforce the law, and to collect some of the damages and fees involved.
San Francisco has that provision in a half dozen laws but not in our Ethics operation where it is needed most of all.
For that reason, Aaron Peskin, Bob Dockendorff and I have each pledged $1,000 toward writing and winning a private right of action to empower San Franciscans to ensure good government serves us all.
I hope that it will also earn your support and help.
Thank you for this award, and I look forward to more years of working with so many of you here tonight.