Peskin wants big political donors to disclose investments

In another shot at tech investor Ron Conway, Supervisor Aaron Peskin has proposed a campaign finance regulation that would require large contributors to disclose investments like stock holdings.

Peskin and his progressive colleagues on the board blasted Conway, along with other deep-pocketed investors, during the Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 23 meeting for exacerbating San Francisco’s wealth disparity through big political spending and private sector investments. They used Conway’s support of board president London Breed as justification to oust her as acting mayor during that meeting.

A week later, Peskin proposed the new campaign finance regulation.

SEE RELATED: Breed fires back over Conway support: ‘I am nobody’s slave’

“For every donation to a independent expenditure committee or Super PAC that is over — we can discuss the threshold — $25,000, I want to see disclosures of every donor’s business interest, whether that’s their ownership interest in various companies or real estate, [and] as with my own Form 700s, a full recital of their stock portfolio,” Peskin said last week during the board’s Budget and Finance Committee hearing on a broad package of campaign finance reform proposed by the Ethics Commission. “That will give a much clearer idea of why this money is flowing through our political system.”

Elected officials and other city officials must file a Statement of Economic Interests, or Form 700, which discloses their investments.

“People have a right to know what the motivations of these super big donors is and where all those tentacles go,” he added. “I think that would be a profound ethics reform.”

Peskin noted his proposal “unfortunately won’t move through the legislative process quickly enough to be effective for this June’s election cycle, which, of course, is shaping up to be one of the more consequential elections in recent city history.”

Kyle Kundert, the Ethics Commission’s senior policy analyst who helped draft the reform legislation, said Monday of Peskin’s proposal, “It’s interesting. We haven’t seen any written language.”

“I am not familiar with such provisions in other jurisdictions,” Kundert added.

Peskin said Monday he intends to have the amendment drafted in time for when the committee holds a second hearing on the reform package next week and would like to see it added to the larger campaign finance reform measure proposed by the Ethics Commission. That reform package would require at least eight board votes to become law, but if the board fails to approve it, the commission has said it would ask voters to approve the reforms instead.

The commission’s proposal, drafted after a year of work, is meant to address the “pay-to-play dynamics that can or can be perceived to be affecting the way government decisions are made in The City,” said LeeAnn Pelham, executive director of the Ethics Commission. The proposal includes new restrictions and disclosures to help “restore public trust in government.”

The proposal, which comes after nine meetings with both those impacted by the regulations and Ethics Commission staff and several commission meetings, focuses on four main areas and would cost $160,000 to implement.

The proposal would ban people with a financial interest in certain land use proposals from contributing to the political campaigns of the mayor, the city attorney or members of the Board of Supervisors until one year after the matter was voted upon.

“Since 2012, the five largest contributors — whether that’s to ballot measure committees, candidate campaign committees or general purpose committees — those five largest contributors were all land use or developer organizations or entities,” Kundert said. “Several of those top givers gave, since 2012, well into the millions of dollars regarding political activity in The City.”

Another provision would restrict fundraising by people who serve on city commission, which would prohibit members on certain boards and commissions from soliciting campaign money for the officials who appointed them.

“Appointed officials should be acting in the interests of The City, in the interests of the commision that they serve on, and not in the interest of the individual who appointed them,” Kundert said.

The proposal would require increased regulations around behested payments — contributions made at the request of an elected official to charitable causes or groups. Proposed added disclosures of such payments include disclosing if a family member or staff member works at the organization for which the official requested the donation, and whether literature featuring the official who requested the payment is widely circulated. The donor would also have to disclose any decision-making interest he or she had at City Hall.

The recipient of the behested payment would have to disclose how he or she spent the payment received if he or she received $100,000 at the behest of the same official within one year.

Nonprofit leaders are critical of the proposed behested payment restrictions, arguing it would deter elected officials, like members of the board, from attending fundraising events to call for charitable donations for fear of running afoul of the new disclosure requirements.

The public would get more insight into the art of bundling contributions under the proposal.

“It’s a pretty common fundraising practice,” Patrick Ford, the Ethics Commission’s policy analyst, said of bundling. “This ordinance would require committees that receive bundled contributions to make a disclosure when they file their semi-annual statements, saying who bundled the contributions, which contributions bundled and also whether or not the person bundling the contribution is attempting to influence that candidate.”

The Ethics Commission is expected to hold a Feb. 16 meeting to discuss placing the measure on the June ballot. Peskin has requested the commission give the board more time to debate the proposal and possibly take it to the November election, if the board can’t pass something.

Peskin said he would like the board to adopt the measure, after some amendments. One provision, in particular, he thought was misguided would require a donor of $100 or more sign a form they are not a prohibited donor.

“My caution is that when we go down this path of getting money out of City Hall that we don’t also end up imperiling and chilling the small donor environment,” Peskin said. “You’ve cast a broader net than may be wise.”

At least eight of the 11 supervisors must vote to approve the Ethics Commission’s proposal for it to become law. The board’s budget committee will hear the proposal next on Feb. 15.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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