Civil Grand Jury report highlights gifts made on mayor's behalf

A ballot argument in favor of Prop. J, which was approved by San Francisco voters in 2000.

A major real-estate firm contributed $1 million to the America’s Cup Organizing Committee at the behest of Mayor Ed Lee, right around the time it sought city approval to expand a downtown tech office building that was already under construction.

Kilroy Realty, the developer of a 30-story building that will house more than 400,000 square feet of office space for, won approval in August of 2013 to add an additional six floors to its 350 Mission commercial office space project. That building is one of three in the Transbay area that will house offices.

Kilroy sent one check for $500,000 to the America’s Cup Organizing Committee on June 24, 2013, and a second one for the same amount on Jan. 31 of this year.

While it’s impossible to say for sure whether the generous gifts had anything to do with the request for approval for a major building expansion, the “behested payment” reports documenting the transactions did draw the attention of the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, which included them in a report titled “Ethics in the City: Promise, Practice, or Pretense?”

In another example highlighted in the report, Mayor Lee accepted travel funds for a trip to China and Korea last October. Contributors who provided more than $500 apiece for that trip included Uber and Airbnb, both tech-based companies whose businesses stand to be directly impacted by city policies.

Uber has been sparring with the San Francisco International Airport over its drivers’ unauthorized passenger drop-offs as of late, while Airbnb long skirted its responsibility to pay the city’s hotel tax and is now the subject of legislation regulating short-term housing rentals. It's interesting that each of these companies felt compelled to donate toward the mayor's travel fund, given the city’s attempts to regulate them.

The Civil Grand Jury report highlights the shortcomings of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, an agency tasked with ensuring that government operations aren’t tainted by conflicts of interest or official misconduct.

Citizen watchdogs of San Francisco government have sought to eliminate pay-to-play politics for years.

Back in 2000, San Francisco voters approved a ballot measure seeking to bar elected officials from accepting campaign donations or gifts from corporations or individuals who had received city contracts or “special benefits.”

Known as Proposition J, that measure sought to eliminate the undue influence of deep-pocketed, well-connected players in local government.

It was popular and won by a landslide: No ballot arguments were registered against it, and the measure won with 82.66 percent of the vote.

Nevertheless, the Civil Grand Jury report noted, Prop. J was “amended out of existence” – through an effort led by none other than the Ethics Commission.

“The Ethics Commission proposed repealing Proposition J at their April 2003 meeting,” the report notes.

That proposal was part of an effort to “recodify conflict of interest laws,” the Civil Grand Jury found. Some laws were amended. Others were tweaked so that amendments could be made in the future, without voter approval.

After winning approval from the Board of Supervisors, that package of legislative changes became Proposition E on the 2003 ballot. “In 2003, voters approved Proposition E that recodified the ethics laws; however, it also had the undisclosed effect of deleting Proposition J language,” the Civil Grand Jury noted. “Thus, the concept of regulating public officials’ relations with those who receive ‘public benefits’ from them (Proposition J's intent) was totally eliminated from San Francisco law.”

The report also takes the Ethics Commission to task for being too lax when it comes to addressing potential conflicts of interest.

It goes so far as to recommend that the agency hand over control of its major enforcement investigations to the Fair Political Practices Commission, a state agency with a more robust team of investigators who might produce better results.

“The Ethics Commission lacks resources to handle major enforcement cases,” the Civil Grand Jury notes. “These include, for example, cases alleging misconduct, conflict of interest, violating campaign finance and lobbying laws, and violating post-employment restrictions.”

The full report can be found here.


of aging wannabees who have about as much relevance as, say, the advisory councils the city has.

Not even worth reading.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

It is truly amazing that this website will let anyone post anonymous comments slurring a group of people. Come on SFBG! You really want to let people do that? Of course they are not going to own up to their own comments. Let's see, if I said made such an incredibly irresponsible statement, providing zero evidence, I wouldn't take credit either. Funny how that works. Let's try this. The SFBG is a joke when it comes to journalistic integrity. Show some integrity and pride in your reporting.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2014 @ 6:58 pm

It seems to me; policing the comments section is up to those commenting. No?

Posted by Robert Kolbe on Jun. 30, 2014 @ 10:27 pm

I should have simply stooped to the poster's level, called them a stupid coward and left it at alone. I suppose I made the mistake of engaging with a fool. My bad.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 1:15 am

throwing a hissy fit demanding censorship.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 4:53 am

It is not like any of us are lacking exposure to neoliberal and libertarian analysis. We're soaking in it 24/7.

Like the proselytizing Christian, like the sullen neofeminist / gender theorizing / anti-oppression / privilege fetishizing identity politico, your fallacious presumption is that people cannot possibly disagree with you once informed of your wisdom, that we are simply ignorant of your Good News.

Been there, heard it, seen it, done it, hated it.

We don't need your neoliberal and libertarian proselytizing, don't need to read it, and don't want to have it polluting what was supposed to be a progressive discussion forum. The Guardian, for its craven part, simply wants to generate more ad impressions to salvage its flailing finances, so it does nothing.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 5:43 am

I said he should not demand censorship of views he disagrees with.

You should ask yourself some serious questions about why you so crave the absence of dissenting views.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 6:13 am

@marcos - Wait, what's a "neofeminist?" I generally read these things in terms of waves: first-wave, second-wave, third-wave (for those who actually know the difference between the first two), and "post-". Confusion of terms makes me sullen.

Posted by Jym on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 7:14 am

just used as code for abusing someone who disagrees.

Kinda like "troll" or "moron".

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 7:31 am

Or perhaps he/she respects on-point, intellectually-honest debate?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 6:37 am
Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 6:45 am

people like, er, conservatives, bankers, tech workers, landlords, developers, the wealthy etc.


Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 4:52 am

deploying dozens of so-called "activists" on the sidewalks to gather signatures and intimidate voters is perfectly reasonable?

Both sides seek to gain influence using the assets that they have, either money or effort. And since corporations and institutions cannot vote, what other means do they have?

That is why SCOTUS ruled the way it did on Citizen's United - to balance the playing field. Evidently you prefer it to be skewed in your favor. When did you EVER criticize SEIU donations?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2014 @ 5:21 pm

SEIU donations are completely different. How dare you bring that up. Just because they donate money and votes to left-wing politicians in exchange for their votes doesn't mean it's the same as corporations. Because corporations are evil and they are just buying political votes while SEIU is helping good politicians. Duh.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

It is truly outstanding that a member of the US Supreme Court posted here on their reasoning behind Citizens United. What a coup for the Guardian. Of course, this particular justice chose to remain anonymous. But there can be no doubt that what we are offered is the true inside look at what goes on among the justices in their chambers.

Unless it is just another troll.

Posted by CitiReport on Jun. 30, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

ruling. And then the reader can decide whose interpretation they prefer.

Except that evidently you do not have one.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 4:54 am

Here! Here! Keyword: Analysis.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2014 @ 6:42 am

always making a mountain out of wontons. I really don't see how this is any different than when I pay a maître d' to seat me ahead of the hoi polloi, or when I give the building inspector a bottle of my finest single malt. it's like you can't even do anything nice for anybody anymore.

Posted by ChristianPatriotLandowner on Jul. 02, 2014 @ 2:32 pm

can have a better life. Can you imagine that?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 02, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

and now that I have my better life, I intend to keep it - no matter how many people I have to fuck over. considering all the other illegal and immoral shit I pull, what's sending a few politicians on vacation?

Posted by ChristianPatriotLandowner on Jul. 02, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

Some use money, some use time, some use effort and evidently some use sarcasm.

It's all good although naturally I support your campaign to stop SEIU's financual donations.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 02, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

excellent! christian patriots and asian liquor store owners need to stick together and all vote like White people :)

Posted by ChristianPatriotLandowner on Jul. 02, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

Stereotypes don't work any more, if they ever did.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 02, 2014 @ 6:59 pm

It's comments and acts like this from idjit progressives that easily explain why the majority of Asians won't back progressives. The bitterness and hatred progressives show towards Asians is obvious and pathetic.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 02, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

and they give the lie to the concept of white privilege.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 02, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

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