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Newly enacted ethics law bans SF commissioners from fundraising for candidates who appointed them

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New ethics rules prohibit city commissioners, such as Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards (right), from fundraising for candidates who appointed them. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)

San Franciscan politicos have long tangled themselves up in powerful interests to win.

Starting this week however, a newly enacted law will strip some strands from that web of influence.

The “Anti-Corruption and Accountability Ordinance” went into effect July 1, barring members of city boards and commissions from fundraising for those who appoint them.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office authored the reforms in a bid to restrict spending for London Breed’s mayoral campaign.

Still, this new ordinance will apply to political comers of all ideologies, and may stem political pay to play — or the appearance thereof — in future elections.

“The intent was always to prevent the use of city appointees as a fundraising army for elected officials,” said Larry Bush, a City Hall ethics watchdog who wrote many of The City’s ethics laws.

And that list of “don’ts” for city appointees is pretty extensive.

Let’s take a hypothetical example: Dennis Richards, planning commissioner and all-around politically interested progressive fellow. He’s got a vote on the planning commission to approve or deny projects worth millions, the same projects whose developers sometimes contribute to supervisor races. Richards and his fellow supervisor-appointed planning commissioners are now legally barred from: requesting contributions from donors for supervisors, inviting people to fundraising events for supervisor candidates, supplying names for invitations for fundraisers, providing a home or business for supervisor election purposes, hiring anyone to conduct fundraisers for supervisor candidates, or acting as “an agent or intermediary” in connection with the making of a contribution to a supervisor candidate.

Now, this isn’t to say Richards has done any of that. Friday, he told me the last time he hosted a fundraising party for a candidate was Tom Temprano’s 2015 college board run.

“I had to read all the statutes around who could come,” he told me. The rules and regs were so onerous, he didn’t want to bother. “And now,” he added, “I don’t want to mention the word ‘check,’ or ‘funds,’ to anyone. And rightly so, you don’t want to run afoul of this and seem like there’s pay-to-play.”

The newly enacted law could cause some commissioners to do some soul searching: Do they stay on the board they’re appointed to and give up fundraising for candidates? Or do they step down?

Many on the Commission on Status of Women, for instance, are appointed by the Mayor’s Office and are ardent Breed supporters. Commission President Debbie Mesloh, commissioner Meena Harris, commissioner Marjan Philhour, commissioner Andrea Shorter and commissioner Mary Jung all supported Breed’s campaign in some way.

If forced to choose between political fundraising and the commission, Jung told me she’d leave her political fundraising days behind her.

“I’d actually consider it a blessing,” she said, laughing. “I don’t know who’s willing to admit that.”

Jung also raises money for nonprofits and social causes, like the Chinese Hospital, which she said is what fulfills her. “I believe there are many ways to do public service,” she said.

Vince Courtney Jr. may also face that choice: He’s a political captain with Laborers Local 261 who serves as treasurer or principal officer on a number political fundraising committees, like the moderate supporting tech-money-magnet Progress San Francisco. But he is vice president of the SF Public Utilities Commission, and — you guessed it — is appointed by The Mayor’s Office.

He told me he’s still evaluating this new law. “We value the spirit of the new law,” he told me Friday, and “it’s safe to say that for future elections, we’re thoroughly examining any potential impact such roles may or may not have in connection with official government assignments.”

It’s a start.


Any hip-hop fans in the house? Last month, Supervisor Katy Tang somewhat “annointed” her legislative aide, Jessica Ho, to run in her stead for the November District 4 supervisor race in the Sunset District. After the news broke, many readers have said that it seems Tang has essentially tapped Ho for a coronation.

But one reader in particular decided to name the political pairing after a popular New York City hip-hop group. Ready for it? Ready for it? … the “Ho-Tang Clan.”

(The group is called the Wu-Tang Clan. Google it!)

Seriously, I had “The Ho-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to f—- wit’” stuck in my head the rest of the day.

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