Monday, March 07, 2005

The Ethics Commission: Lamer than it needs to be

Regardless of funding and the political composition of the Ethics Commission itself, there are some simple, important things the always pleasant and helpful folks who work in the office at 30 Van Ness could be doing. For example, the Campaign Disclosure Statements that the city's political candidates fill out to show how much money they've raised and where they got it are often filled out incorrectly. 

After poring over dozens of these forms before writing items on spending in the D5 supervisorial race, I began to suspect that this might be deliberate, especially considering the number of errors in filling in Column B, which clearly reads, "Calendar Year Total to Date," so that, no matter what filing deadline is being met, the total money raised for the year to that point should be filled in.
When I mentioned this to the clerk at the counter, she said, yes, that seemed to be a rather common error. I didn't ask her why she and the other clerks/administrators in the office don't call the candidates and ask them to come in and get it right, which wouldn't cost the city more than a local phone call. 

As it is, the staff seems to think that just making sure that candidates file the forms, regardless of their accuracy, is an end in itself that fulfills both their and the candidates' responsibility. This reduces the whole process to a pro forma exercise that may be worse than doing nothing at all, since it lulls the public into a false sense of security about the role of money in city politics.
The most flagrant, in-your-face inaccuracy I saw on all the forms I looked at was on one filed by the Committee to Re-Elect Tom Ammiano. The spending limit for supervisorial races last year was $83,000, which was the exact amount the Ammiano Committee claims to have spent on the campaign. 

Gee, what a lucky coincidence---not a penny over! This kind of bullshit shouldn't be tolerated. Whoever filled out that form probably knew the Commission's staff didn't do any real follow-up and just stuck it up their/our you-know-what. What the staff should do is call up Ammiano's campaign manager and/or treasurer and tell them to bring in the documentation for that unlikely number.
Filling out and filing Campaign Disclosure Forms shouldn't be an empty exercise for candidates; it should reflect the reality of what candidates are spending and where they got their money. Is that too much to ask?

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At 2:17 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Dear Mr. Rob Anderson,When a Campaign Disclosure Statement is received in the office, staff at the Ethics Commission does a facial scan of the statement making sure that all items are filled out at the time of receipt.If items are
missing/incorrectly filled,the candidate/treasurer is informed while clerical staff does try to catch mistakes as they come in, the sheer volume of filings given the size of staff does not always allow for comprehensive review. The random audit process is designed to help find these errors,
whether deliberate or unintended. Queried reports are generated
periodically to analyze campaign's filings.In addition,random audits are being conducted for each race.During the audit process,all documents are reviewed.

The Committee to Re-Elect Tom Ammiano for the 2004 supervisorial race is currently being audited and all of their documents are being reviewed.

If you have further concerns, please contact our office.
San Francisco Ethics Commission
30 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 3900
San Francisco, CA 94102
Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
phone 415-581-2300
fax 415-581-2317

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Your staff, while friendly and helpful when asked questions, didn't appear to be terribly busy when I visited the office. And if you need a volunteer to pull out the statements that are incorrectly and incompletely filled out, I'm your man. It's a mistake to let this stuff slide; the public is counting on you folks to at least look at the forms that are filed. And if they are wrong, the candidate needs to be notified so that he/she can come in and get it right.


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