Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Monday, March 9, 2009

Critics: Firefighter Union's 'Save Our Firehouses' Campaign Exposes Weakness of S.F. Lobbyist Laws

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 7:30 AM

Sure you can give a suit like this to a city official. Just remember to report it within 10 days.
  • Sure you can give a suit like this to a city official. Just remember to report it within 10 days.
On Friday we reported on how an ad campaign pushed by San Francisco's firefighter union -- but conspicuously not listing the union's name -- apparently violated San Francisco's lobbying laws. In this city, lobbyists must register with the Ethics Commission -- and unions must register as lobbyists whenever they bend city officials' ears on matter other than wages and hours.

After initially denying that directing citizens to excoriate their supervisors over proposed firehouse closures constituted lobbying, the union's treasurer told SF Weekly that, yes, it did -- and the union would be registering on Friday. This, he added, was the plan all along. Well, the union did register -- making them the four-leaf clover of unions to actually admit publicly that they do lobby and comply with city regulations (unless you believe that unions don't lobby, ever).

The firefighter union's action was apparently completely legal, as it registered its lobbying within 10 days of kicking off the ad campaign. This, however, exposed the inherent weakness in city law, note a handful of former Ethics Commissioners -- who actually anticipated firefighters lobbying to save firehouses in a mid-February letter to the commission. Hypothetically, the firefighters union (or, indeed, any union or lobbying body) could fire up an expensive, well-organized lobbying campaign nine days before an election and then register on the 10th day -- after election day -- and not violate the law, says Joe Lynn, a former ethics commissioner and the principal author of the aforementioned letter. 

At tonight's Ethics Commission meeting, the body could decide whether to re-up the status quo -- and enshrine the aforementioned vulnerability to late lobbying efforts -- or institute 24-hour reporting turnaround times favored by the quintet of former commissioners.

Tonight's meeting, incidentally, could be a significant moment in local politics, as the commission may also decide whether or not to do away with city prohibitions on consultants employed by city officials taking money from outside agencies to lobby the government. Or, in legalese, eliminating the following:

(a) PROHIBITION. No campaign consultant, individual who has an ownership interest in the campaign consultant, or an employee of the campaign consultant shall communicate with any officer of the City and County who is a current or former client of the campaign consultant on behalf of another person or entity (other than the City and County) in exchange for economic consideration for the purpose of influencing local legislative or administrative action.

It will be interesting to see if Ethics' moves tonight please the  good-government watchdogs or the big-money donors -- and the consultants who always stand to make a cut. 

Photo   |   Infrogmation

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , ,

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"