Proposition T: Restricting Lobbyist Gifts and Contributions to Politicians

This ordinance would prohibit lobbyists from contributing money to an elected official if they are registered to lobby the official’s agency, and also bar campaign contributions to candidates for those offices. It would also keep them from giving gifts to elected officials or candidates and their family members. The measure would require lobbyists to notify the Ethics Commission before they planned to lobby a government office or make payments to influence legislation or administrative action.

The San Francisco Ethics Commission voted 4-0 to put this measure on the ballot.

Why is this on the ballot?

“Corruption and the appearance of corruption in the form of campaign consultants exploiting their influence with City officials on behalf of private interests may erode public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of City governmental decisions,” the text of Proposition T states. “The City and County of San Francisco has a compelling interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption which could result in such erosion of public confidence.”

The measure’s authors argue that lobbyists have an outsize ability to influence politicians, especially during an election cycle, and their behavior should be more heavily regulated.

Right now, lobbyists may personally contribute money to candidates for elected office in San Francisco — as well as deliver bundles of other people’s contributions — and then lobby them after they have won the election. Lobbyists may also give local politicians gifts.

California law already bans registered lobbyists from donating to state candidates.

Lobbyist contributions totaled $235,124 in the 2015 San Francisco election. Most of that money was targeted at Mayor Ed Lee and his picks for various offices.

Lee’s own re-election campaign took in $171,824 in lobbyist contributions, far outpacing any other candidate in the election. Ethics Commission records show 93 percent of that money came from seven registered lobbyists. Alex Tourk, Lee’s top lobbyist contributor, delivered him the election’s biggest bundle, $66,524. Julie Christensen, the election’s second largest recipient of lobbyist contributions and Lee’s pick to succeed Assemblyman David Chiu as District 3 supervisor, got $21,500 from Tourk. Lee-backed sheriff candidate Vicki Hennessy came in third in contributions.

Proposition T is a local tailoring of the American Anti-Corruption Act, the nationally focused agenda of one of the measure’s authors, the San Francisco chapter of Represent.Us. They and co-authors Friends of Ethics say Proposition T is merely one in a series of forthcoming reforms intended to make government more transparent and accountable to voters. The groups hope to build on the momentum of the 2015 passage of Proposition C, which for the first time required a new category of lobbyists to register with the city.

What would it do and at what cost?

Lobbyists would have to give notice before lobbying

Beginning in 2018, lobbyists would have to include new information during the mandatory registration process, as well as in their monthly activity reports: They would have to notify the Ethics Commission of the agencies they planned to actively lobby, going forward, such as the Board of Supervisors, the Mayor’s Office or the Planning Commission. They would be required to inform the Ethics Commission before they began lobbying other agencies, though they could also provide that notice without penalty in the five days following their registration.

The Ethics Commission would use $115,000 from the city’s general fund to set up the new registration process, which would cost an estimated $5,000 per year to maintain.

Lobbyists’ campaign contributions would be limited

During elections, lobbyists could not personally contribute to, or bundle for, candidates for offices or agencies that they were actively lobbying or that they had lobbied within the previous 90 days.

If a lobbyist did not specify the government agency he or she intended to lobby, the Ethics Commission would presume that person planned to lobby all agencies. As a result, that lobbyist would not be allowed to contribute to, or bundle for, any candidate for office.

Lobbyists could no longer give gifts

Lobbyists could no longer give gifts to sitting officials or candidates for office, or their family members, regardless of what those gifts were or how much they cost. Travel gifts also would be banned. Family members are defined as “a parent, spouse, domestic partner registered under state law, or dependent child of an officer of the City and County.”

Some nonprofits would have a limited exemption, and lobbyists could not use third parties to avoid these gift limits.

Penalties

Lobbyists who broke these rules might face fines of thousands of dollars per violation, depending on the context of the violation.

Is there a catch?

Even if the proposition is passed, lobbyists could contribute to, or bundle on behalf of, candidates for city offices or agencies they were not actively lobbying.

Only lobbyists would be affected. Anyone else could still bundle on behalf of political candidates.

Who officially proposed it?

The San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Who officially opposes it?

No opposition argument was submitted to the Department of Elections.

Vote needed to pass

Simple majority — 50 percent plus one

Effective date if passed

Jan. 1, 2018

Follow the money

Two committees are spending money to support Proposition T: “Friends of Ethics Yes on Proposition T,” and “Ban lobbyist gifts to politicians, YES on Prop T, Integrity San Francisco, Sponsored by Represent.US.”

Follow the money at the San Francisco Ethics Commission: all Proposition T filings.

Our coverage

S.F. Ballot Measure Takes Aim at Lobbyists’ Fundraising

Endorsements: our methodology

The Public Press chose to count endorsements from organizations that backed multiple candidates or ballot measures, and that made those endorsements available online. We did not count endorsements from individuals.

If you think we missed an important organization, please tell us. We’d love to hear from you.

Tracked endorsements by organization


Written by: Noah Arroyo

Published: Sept. 30, 2016