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?