They're Back: Ethics Resumes Meltdowns
August 8, 2007
Part Two: An Insider's Evaluation of the Players
A. Responsibilities and Evaluations
The enforcement division of the Ethics Commission operates in
the greatest secrecy available to an agency as the result of extraordinary
Charter provisins. Thus it is rare when the public can see it
in operation. Last month, three separate decisions were revealed,
each indicating professional incompetence at best and politically
motivated decisions at worse. For an agency that can affect the
outcomes of elections, this is unacceptable. An evaluation of
the players will help us understand what is going on.
1. The Mayor
The Mayor has control of the Ethics Commission budget. His budgets
have had Ethics in triage for over three years. He never responded
to the Civil Grand Jury's report two years ago of chronic underfunding.
As recently as a few months ago, the Ethics Executive Director
reported he had less than 50% of the staff that he needed.
The first result of this starvation diet has been to extirpate
the San Francisco's grass roots community. Big money represented
by the Mayor's attorney, Mr. Sutton, can successfully navigate
the waters at Ethics. The bad decisions from enforcement have
unanimously been in his favor. It is the grass roots folks who
are under attack. Just three years ago, there were close to 300
committees active on the Ethics records. While there was some
bloat in that number because of defunct committees, there are
now about 160 active committees. The word is getting out. Stay
low politically or face Ethics. Our grassroots culture is under
Big money is trying to control San Francisco politics. Two recent
news stories make the point. The first story concerns Dallas with
a population at 1.2 million almost twice San Francisco's 750,000.
In the recently concluded race for Mayor in Dallas, the winner
spent a record $3.2
million. Compare that with Gavin Newsom's $6 million spent
four years ago. Newsom's $6 million figure inflates to $10 million
when you include an additional $4 million in spending by ostensibly
third-party sources to get him elected.
The second story involves Barack Obama who now has the national
reputation as the greatest fundraiser ever, raising $32.5
million this last quarter to run in an election with 300 million
residents. Adjust that for a population of 750,000 and you would
need to raise $82,000 in three months. Mr. Newsom raised ten times
that rate in 2003.
Big money in San Francisco is obscenely high. It is required
by the now-declining grass roots culture. Of course, there is
an even more sinister reason to keep Ethics underfunded. The Ethics
Commission has never had resources necessary to perform a complete
audit on a campaign the size of Gavin Newsom's. This may explain
why he and so many other big money interests represented by Jim
Sutton constantly get the free passes from Ethics. Ethics is frozen
in the headlights.
2. The City Attorney
Historically the City Attorney's advice to the Ethics Commission
has been right-wing, timid and hid from the public. However, recently
there are signs that the City Attorney is taking a more progressive
stand with respect to their advice to Ethics. With respect to
the enforcement division, the City Attorney has never assigned
anyone to Ethics with any background in discovery or investigations.
This is in stark contrast to the District Attorney who has expressed
interest in providing the young investigators at Ethics with mentorship.
Unfortunately her interest has been met with silence from Ethics.
Tomorrow, we can discuss the culture at the Ethics Commission
itself and conclude with a discussion of whether the political
culture in San Francisco can afford continued support of the Ethics
Tomorrow: The Culture of the Ethics Commission; Next Steps
Joe Lynn was the campaign finance officer and office manager
of the San Francisco Ethics Commission from 1998 to 2003. From
2003 to 2006, he served as one of the five Ethics Commissioners.
The San Francisco Examiner called him the backbone of the
Ethics Commission, and the Bay Guardian named him a
leading voice for reform.While on staff, Joe was named SF
Government Employee of the Year by the SF Weekly in 2003. Mayor
Willie Brown gave him two awards for his mentorship work He also
received two commendations from the Board of Supervisors, one
initiated by then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom and the other by then-Board
President Matt Gonzalez. The Northern California Society of Professional
Journalists presented him the James Madison Freedom of Information
Award in 2003. He managed the Citys electronic campaign
finance program (named best in the country by the Center for Governmental
Studies) and the conflict of interest program (named best in the
state by the Montclarion). He maintains an active interest in
good government laws. Email Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org