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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fact Check: Was State Assembly Candidate Michael Breyer Investigated by the Ethics Commission?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 at 10:58 AM

  • Michael Breyer

Assessor Phil Ting's campaign says that Library Commission Michael Breyer, Ting's opponent for the 19th District state Assembly seat, "was investigated by the Ethics Commission for what they suspected was an illegally coordinated 'independent' expenditure."

Breyer's campaign says that "Michael Breyer was never investigated on ethics charges."

These appear to be diametrically opposed positions disagreeing on a fact that should be clear-cut. So, who's wrong?

Well, that depends what you mean by "investigated."

In August 2011, Ethics Commission Director John St. Croix released a report recommending that, as the Examiner reported, "Dozens of volunteers, consultants and campaign staff who were involved with committees to get Mayor Ed Lee to run for mayor should be barred from joining his campaign should he run for office." St. Croix warned that those individuals would be violating the city's campaign finance ordinance rules by working for Lee's campaign.

Breyer, who founded the Committee to Support Drafting Ed Lee for SF Mayor, was one of those dozens of people barred. A week later, he challenged the ruling -- and also closed his independent expenditure committee -- and the Ethics Commission overturned the decision.

"St. Croix investigated enough to have a finding," says Eric Jaye, Ting's campaign manager. "The executive director barred him from participating in the Ed Lee campaign, and it was only at the Commission that this bar was overturned. The executive director doesn't and can't take an action like that without an investigation -- by definition."

In the broadest, literal terms, Ting's accusation is accurate: By the dictionary definition of "investigate," the St. Croix and the Ethics Commission certainly did "examine, study, or inquire into systematically" Michael Breyer's political action committee to determine whether he should be eligible to volunteer for Lee's campaign.

But there is no evidence that the Ethics Commission formally investigated Breyer. (The Ethics Commission does not publicly disclose whether it formally investigates someone.) An official investigation typically stems from a complaint alleging wrongdoing. St. Croix's report did not suggest Breyer had been accused of doing anything wrong (it does claim that Breyer's committee had missed a filing deadline, but St. Croix later noted that the claim was inaccurate). It simply declared that Breyer should not be eligible to work for Lee's campaign.

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Albert Samaha


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