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Politics & Policy

‘Unusually severe’ cuts coming to San Francisco ethics agency, says commissioner

Mayor London Breed talks about the balanced budget and key priorities for the city in San Francisco, on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

San Francisco Ethics Commission Chair Yvonne Lee released a statement denouncing Mayor London Breed’s cuts to the department, calling them “unusually severe” and implying that her department had been singled out for cuts that will drastically impede its work. 

Released last week, Breed’s draft citywide budget cuts the commission’s budget by 4.7% next fiscal year, with an increase of 19% the following year. However, Lee contended that those percentages conceal much larger cuts, because they include funding for the city’s public campaign financing program. 

“I urge the Board of Supervisors to consider the drastic impact these cuts will have on City government and all those who interact with it,” Lee wrote in a statement Monday afternoon. 

Lee said that the published budget for the agency belies cuts that would amount to a 32% reduction in operating funds and 40% cut to staff over two years. Lee contrasted the agency’s budget with those of other, larger departments whose budgets increased. 

“The City is still at a pivotal juncture to put practices in place that will help prevent corrupt practices such as those that were revealed through the federal corruption probe," Lee wrote. "A significantly downsized Ethics Commission will be unable to meet these needs." 

The city’s Ethics Commission is responsible for monitoring and enforcing regulations regarding campaign-finance reporting and conflicts of interest by city officials. Funding from the city’s public-campaign financing cannot be used for operations, according to Lee.

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She said the agency’s ethics training program for city employees would be defunded entirely, and its enforcement division would be reduced by half, causing a backlog in cases and threatening public access to campaign finance activity during the 2024 election period. 

Breed’s communications director, Jeff Cretan, said that positions being cut in the second year were temporary ones for specific projects that were expiring. Making those roles permanent would require consultation with the budget team over the next year, he said.

“There’s a planning process that has to happen first,” Cretan said.

The November 2024 cycle includes races for mayor, members of the Board of Supervisors and a dozen other local elected offices, and represents the first under Proposition H, a new system of consolidated elections that voters approved last year. 

Lee maintained that monitoring campaign finance and the ability to prevent the repeat of corruption scandals—such as those centered around former Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru—are at risk under the proposed budget.