Given the chance to complain to whatever newspaper covered the land of fairy tales, the Big Bad Wolf would probably remonstrate that houses of bricks were too cumbersome to be blown down -- even with much huffing and puffing.
Given the chance to complain to the paper that covers our own fairy tale kingdom, a slew of mayoral candidates yesterday whined to the Chronicle that San Francisco's ban on political contributions from city contractors awarded lucrative deals by candidates for office to be "unworkable."
Is it surprising for politicians on the wrong side of the law to claim the fault lies with the law? Not by the hairs on your chinny-chin-chin.
More surprising, ostensibly, is the Ethics Commission siding with the politicians. On the other hand, SF Weekly revealed in 2009
that Ethics had unilaterally abandoned any attempt at enforcing this
law and not one of the elected officials who had signed it into
existence was bothering to follow it.
To be fair, campaign finance laws do not read with the ease of Harry Potter novels. But the idea behind the contractor ban, devised by Ethics' staff and later ratified by the voters as Measure H in 2008, is understandable. Contractors awarded city contracts exceeding $50,000 are forbidden from contributing to the city officials who voted on those deals for six months to prevent pay-for-play politics.
In yesterday's Chronicle story, Ethics Commission Executive Director John St. Croix bemoans that the list of banned contractors has swollen to a pair of Yellow Pages-sized books. Well, that's a problem. What's also a problem is that this is being handled in much the same way it would have been in, say, 1902. We have computers now. Databases. Search functions. But we're not using them in this case, rendering a law that Ethics would rather not enforce conveniently unenforceable.
In fact, at every juncture, Ethics' permanent staff has attempted to weaken this law. Last year, it moved to up the contract level from $50,000 to $100,000 for the law to be enacted. It also attempted to lift the ban on donations to city officials when dealing with state boards whose members are appointed by those very San Francisco officials. The Ethics Commissioners voted down both of these suggestions. If they hadn't, however, the tremendous money involved with the Treasure Island Development Association or San Francisco Redevelopment Agency could have flowed to the mayor, supervisors, and, arguably, San Francisco officials running for state office.
After much consideration of what analogy we should use regarding Ethics' self-serving attempts to avoid dealing with this law, we've settled on the following: Ethics is shocked, shocked to find the law is unenforceable.