Proposed ethics reforms target lobbyists, city contracting practices for greater transparency

Board President and City Attorney jointly author legislation to enhance disclosure requirements, tighten reporting loopholes, expand accountability and access

SAN FRANCISCO (April 23, 2013) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Board President David Chiu announced a wide-ranging set of ethics reform proposals at a news conference this afternoon that will tighten rules and enhance transparency for City Hall lobbyists, permit expediters and influential developers; and improve city contracting, procurement and grant-making practices to promote greater oversight and fiscal accountability. The jointly-authored legislation, which Chiu will formally introduce at the full Board of Supervisors meeting later today, also encourages reporting compliance by public officials, and expands access to ethics information for non-English speakers.

Lobbying reforms
The proposed amendments would expand the definition of a “lobbyist” so that more lobbying activity would be subject to reporting and disclosure requirements. The new definitions would encompass all contacts that outside consultants make with City officials in order to influence administrative or legislative actions, and would include employees who earn more than $1,000 per month to lobby on behalf of their employers.

The legislation would also tighten broad exceptions that currently allow most lobbying activity by lawyers and lobbying about City contracts to go unreported. The proposed changes would restrict the reporting exemption for attorneys to communications about litigation, and limit the contract-related reporting exemption to communications by contractors themselves. Most lobbying activity by attorneys and outside consultants for city contractors would cease to be exempt and would require appropriate public disclosure.

Reporting required for ‘permit expediters’ and certain developers
Apart from ethics reforms governing lobbyists and lobbying activities, the proposed legislation would also establish registration and disclosure requirements for permit consultants or “permit expediters,” requiring them to register with the Ethics Commission and file regular reports about their clients and permit-related contacts with City employees and officials. In addition, developers of major projects in San Francisco that require Environmental Impact Reports would be required to file reports to the Ethics Commission to disclose donations of $5,000 or more to nonprofits active in the City.

Greater accountability and oversight for contracts, procurement and grant-making
The proposed legislation would also amend contracting provisions of the San Francisco Administrative Code to establish greater oversight and accountability for city contracting, including contract modifications. The reforms would similarly apply more rigorous oversight and transparency to grant-making by city agencies, requiring the City Controller and Director of Administrative Services to develop regulations requiring that grants be disbursed solely for public purposes according to terms written in advance into the grant agreement.

Enhanced public information: reporting financial non-filers; publishing a campaign donor guide; and expanding access for non-English speakers
The proposed legislation would additionally require the Ethics Commission to report within ten days of the filing deadline a listing of all city officials who fail to file their Form 700 financial disclosures, together with a supplemental report on persistent non-filers one month later.
The Ethics Commission would also be required to publish a guide for campaign donors to explain local laws governing their contributions.

Multilingual services would also be expanded by adding the Ethics Commission to the list of Tier 1 departments required to provide enhanced language access services.

“These wide-ranging good government reforms demonstrate that San Francisco will demand of outside interests nothing less than it demands of itself,” said Herrera. “These proposals intend to increase transparency and accountability across the board—not simply for those who seek to influence city decision-making, but for city decision-makers themselves. I’m proud to join with Board President Chiu in offering this package of worthy reform proposals, and I’m grateful to him for his thoughtful leadership and thorough approach to working with us on these issues.”

“Strengthening San Francisco’s ethics and lobbying laws will increase our public’s confidence in the everyday workings of our local government,” said Chiu. “Shining a brighter light will lead to better and more open decisions by City officials. I appreciate the collaboration with City Attorney Herrera on this crucial effort. I also know that enforcement will be key to making these reforms successful, and I am committed to advocating for additional resources for the Ethics Commission in this year’s budget process.”

Related Documents:

PDF iconEthics Reform presskit (April 23, 2013)