For some time now, oft-labeled “power brokers” with undue influence in San Francisco city government have taken heat for failing to register as lobbyists. At the same time, politically connected insiders are often criticized for manipulating the permitting process for major real estate developments far outside the public gaze.
It’s said that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Yesterday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced a package of reforms designed to shed more light on lobbyists’ practices.
The new set of rules would tighten up lobbying regulations, create new disclosure rules for developers and their lobbyists, create more oversight around city contracting and grant-making, and require the publication of a guide for campaign donors spelling out Ethics laws regarding campaign contributions.
“We’re not demanding of anybody else anything different than we would demand of ourselves,” Herrera said, adding that he and Chiu had been working on drafting the proposal for months.
Chiu and Herrera both vied for the city’s highest office in competition with Mayor Ed Lee in 2011. Since beginning his term as mayor, Lee has drawn sharp criticism for his cozy relationships with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Chinatown consultant Rose Pak and a handful of others who are not registered as lobbyists.
Without mentioning anyone by name, Chiu noted, “I do think there are individuals who have not registered as lobbyists who probably should.”
The proposed rules would broaden the definition of “lobbyist” under the city’s Ethics regulations. The new definition would include “any individual who makes contact with” an elected official on behalf of an employer or anyone else paying them “for lobbyist services.” If someone makes $1,000 or more per month for lobbying, that person would be considered a lobbyist under the law.
The new legislation would also create new disclosure requirements for “permit expediters,” who work on behalf of developers to hasten the permitting process for major real estate construction. They would have to register with the city’s Ethics Commission and file regular reports about their contacts with city officials. Developers with major planning projects in the pipeline would also have to disclose donations of $5,000 or more to city-based nonprofits.
Chiu noted that he and Herrera had consulted with Friends of Ethics, a group of government accountability advocates that’s been pushing for Ethics reform, for help drafting the proposal.
Chiu and Herrera also acknowledged that better enforcement of existing laws was needed in addition to the proposed legislative reforms. “Our city could be more proactive in enforcing our Ethics laws to the fullest,” Chiu said. “Not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law.”