Supervisor's Report

Empower public process, not a political economy: ethics reforms we need now

Can San Francisco change the rules for money in politics? Photo: cmfg804

Campaign finance reformers and government accountability advocates have long organized under the mantle “Money Out of Politics” — and for good reason. In a world where corporations invest billions of dollars to compete for the public’s limited attention, whoever can afford to control the medium can control the message. Special interests have made no secret of the returns they expect on their political investments. Donald Trump spoke candidly on the 2016 campaign trail about giving large donations to politicians to get them to “do whatever the hell you want them to do.” (Which is probably why the National Rifle Association dumped $35 million into Trump’s campaign …)

The past decade has seen hundreds of millions of dollars dumped into local and national elections after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates to unlimited amounts of political spending by corporations. In the war games of politics, super PACs are the new mercenaries, fake news stories are the weapons of mass destruction, and members of the public are the ultimate victims.

Here in San Francisco, you may have read about the Anti-Corruption and Accountability Ordinance the Ethics Commission has been contemplating for the past two years. I have introduced amendments to strengthen and expedite this massive reform package, which could also move forward as emergency stand-alone legislation. As we speed toward an unprecedented June 5 election, which will determine the leadership of our city for the next decade, the need has never been more urgent for transparency and accountability. The public deserves to know in real time who is bundling prime media buys, funding nasty attack ads, and manipulating our personal information for influence, including social media accounts.

My legislation will also provide the public with the ability to connect the dots between major donors’ political investments and their business interests.

As an elected official, I have to file Form 700 public disclosures, which list everything from my real property holdings to my business interests and gifts I’ve received. Commissioners and department heads submit these public documents, as well. If you are prepared to pony up $10,000 or more for a seat at a candidate’s kitchen cabinet, the public deserves to know what other special interests you are bringing to the table with you. Whether you’re an angel investor investing in multiple tech companies or the National Rifle Association, you’re expecting a return on your investment. Big-spender bravado means big-spender disclosures.

I have called for a historic joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the Ethics Commission on April 3 to take up this anticorruption reform package and finally pass it. After two years of stasis, there is absolutely no reason we cannot pass this legislation in advance of an unprecedented and historic mayoral election. This will be the most sweeping campaign reform in over a decade and our first solid effort to address the damage wrought by Citizens United.

We can send a powerful message to dark money corporados saturating our public discourse with vitriolic distractions and fake news — now. We can incentivize small grassroots donors, regulate super PACs, and restore some modicum of trust in government’s ability to weed out corruption — now. Please join me; let’s repudiate the political economy and re-anchor our democracy in a public process.


On a separate note, a heartfelt welcome to my newest colleague in District 2, Supervisor Catherine Stefani. She is smart, she is compassionate and, most of all, she is extremely dedicated to the communities of District 2. I’m looking forward to tackling some initiatives together, including illegal demolitions and speculator serial permitting.


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