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Supervisor Mark Farrell settles ethics fine for $25K, commissioner says he lacks ‘integrity’

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The Ethics Commission voted 3-2 on Monday to approve a $25,000 fine payment from Supervisor Mark Farrell for campaign activity violations in 2010. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)
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It seems Supervisor Mark Farrell’s alleged ethical lapses are finally behind him.

The San Francisco Ethics Commission voted 3-2 on Monday in a special meeting to approve a proposed settlement for $25,000 in payment from Farrell.

Farrell also must accept fault for the actions of his underling, Chris Lee, who admitted to violating campaign laws to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

But the approval by the commission was followed by accusations blasting Farrell for what commissioner Quentin Kopp called Farrell’s own “cheating conduct.” Commissioner Peter Keane also levied serious accusations, alleging Lee “fell on his sword” for Farrell’s own illegal acts.

Because the matter never went to trial, Keane said, “We’d never get to the merits of whether or not Mark Farrell did indeed, deliberately and fraudulently, set up and be involved in the coordination of this committee with his own committee.”

Keane added that coordination with independent campaign committees is “one of the most egregious things that a modern politician can do in regard to campaign contributions, in terms of fraudulently laundering campaign contributions. I still believe he did that.”

The fine in question stems from campaign activity surrounding Farrell’s election as District 2 supervisor in 2010 to represent the wealthy Marina and Pacific Heights neighborhoods, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

Farrell narrowly defeated progressive candidate Janet Reilly after an independent committee mailed tens of thousands of hit pieces against Reilly in October 2010. Lee, Farrell’s campaign manager at the time, illegally coordinated with that committee, Common Sense Voters.

While candidates are limited to receiving $500 contributions per person, there are no contribution limits for independent committees. Lee was fined $14,500 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for violating campaign laws.

Ethics Commission Chairperson Paul Renne said that during legal proceedings, Farrell “swore under oath that he knew nothing about the creation of the committee, that he had no knowledge of his agent’s activities.”

Commissioner Keane essentially called that claim a load of bull.

If the matter had gone to trial, Keane said, any lawyer “worth their salt” could have demonstrated Farrell was guilty. But the matter was not pursued by the Ethics Commission, and the statute of limitations ran out on pursuing Farrell.

Keane blamed that on former executive director of ethics John St. Croix, who was replaced by LeeAnn Pelham late last year.

St. Croix, Keane said, “was clearly totally incompetent in allowing the statute of limitations to run out, or marginally corrupt for going along with the idea of not pursuing” Farrell.

Nathan Ballard, who described himself as an adviser to Farrell but also a spokesperson who frequently represents allies of the Mayor’s Office, wrote to On Guard in an email:

“Supervisor Farrell made a mistake hiring Mr. Lee as one of his campaign consultants, and for that he takes full responsibility. After learning — years after the campaign ended — about Mr. Lee’s rogue actions, the supervisor terminated the relationship and they have not worked together since.”

Ballard also claimed Farrell was “exonerated of any personal wrongdoing” by the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the Ethics Commission.

Keane specifically denied Farrell’s exoneration by the commission as a false claim.

Still, Renne tempered the more heated comments from his fellow commissioners during the meeting and said, “From my point of view, there have been a lot of accusations against Supervisor Farrell without evidence before the commission.”

But one fact was undisputed, which drove Keane to outrage.

“Mr. Farrell, an elected supervisor of the city and county of San Francisco, has never had the political will or courage or integrity to come before this commission and look us in the face,” Keane said.

He added, “Mark Farrell has a lot to be ashamed of.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter.

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