What the Measure Would Do
In 2021, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law that prohibits city officials (elected officials, department heads, commissioners and some city employees) from requesting donations to third parties from most people or organizations doing business with the city, including certain city contractors and lobbyists and those seeking permits or authorizations from the city. These solicited donations are known as behested payments.1 Currently, the law does not prevent the Board of Supervisors from soliciting behested payments from city contractors whose contracts are approved by the Board of Supervisors.2 Proposition E would amend the law to prohibit this type of solicitation as well.
Behested payments are donations to individuals or organizations made at the request of city officials.
In addition, the measure would make it more difficult to amend the city’s behested payments law in the future. Currently, the Board of Supervisors can make changes to the existing law by a majority vote. Prop. E would only allow amendments to be made with a majority vote of the San Francisco Ethics Commission in addition to a two-thirds supermajority vote of the Board of Supervisors.
Prop. E extends a city policy designed to crack down on corruption in local government. In early 2020, federal corruption charges were brought against several city officers, employees and contractors. In some of these cases, government officials asked companies doing business with the city to donate to their favorite charities in exchange for special treatment. For example, a senior building inspector allegedly gave preferential treatment to clients of a permit expediter because the expediter had made donations to the inspector’s nonprofit of choice.3
In 2020, the city attorney and city controller conducted a public integrity review of behested payments and their role in corruption schemes.4 The review recommended significantly restricting the use of behested payments and strengthening their reporting and transparency requirements.
Before 2021, it was legal for elected and nonelected city officials to solicit behested payments as long as the officials complied with certain reporting requirements. Reported behested payments solicited by San Francisco elected officials increased from $3.5 million in 2019 to $33 million in 2020.5 This mirrors statewide trends showing that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations and individuals worked with elected officials to identify nonprofits and departments that needed resources in order to provide services. Recent filings with the Ethics Commission include donations directed to affordable housing nonprofits and neighborhood groups.6
In December 2021, the Board of Supervisors passed a law that prohibits San Francisco elected officials, department heads, commissioners and some city employees from soliciting behested payments from certain contractors and lobbyists and those seeking permits or authorizations from the city. However, this law does not prevent the board from soliciting behested payments from city contractors whose contracts are approved by the Board of Supervisors. This measure would disallow such solicitation, but it would not ban city contractors from donating to nonprofits on their own initiative, nor would it ban nonprofits from receiving donations from city contractors.
This measure was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. It requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
We did not identify any significant equity impacts for this measure.
- By prohibiting city supervisors from soliciting donations for their favored nonprofits from city contractors, Prop. E would further restrict a pathway to corruption that was identified in recent legal cases in San Francisco.
- The measure could help restore trust in local government by showing that the city is committed to taking action on curbing corruption.
- With its high threshold for amendments, this measure could prevent supervisors from changing the behested payments policy in the future for personal benefit.
- This measure would prevent members of the Board of Supervisors from helping with fundraising for nonprofits when potential donors are city contractors.
- Expanding behested payments law in this way could be accomplished legislatively and does not need to be on the ballot.
- By requiring a majority vote of the Ethics Commission and a supermajority vote of the Board of Supervisors, this measure would make it difficult to amend the current behested payments policy, which only became law in December 2021. Therefore, any unintended problems that result from the new law could be hard to solve.