Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tremors in the Bay Area: Berkeley Looks at Significant Pay-to-Play Reform Tomorrow Night


If you heard talk of tremors in the Bay Area recently, that wasn't the relatively benign 2.9 and 4.0’s that struck this morning (causing no reported injury). San Franciscans use 4.0 earthquakes to stir their coffee in the morning.

No, the tremors you felt this morning are from the repercussions of the impending plan by the Berkeley City Council to examine strict new pay-to-play laws tomorrow possibly designed to give the Golden Bears more bite than have their San Francisco brethren across the Bay. Under the proposed resolution, the City of Berkeley intends to request that its Fair Campaign Practices Commission institute prohibitions against city contractors from making campaign contributions to candidates for public office.

To his credit, the recommending Berkeley City Councilmember, Jesse Arreguin, went out of his way in his recommending memorandum to caution that Berkeley should take note of the “possible unintended consequences” realized any time government seeks to outlaw a broadly-defined “person who contracts” as Section 1.126 (a)(1) of San Francisco’s pay-to-play law does. 

Mr. Arrequin, by virtue of being correct on this point, you are officially forgiven for not also citing as authority the numerous times this blog has made that same observation.

Interestingly, there are some, including former San Francisco Ethics Commission member Eileen Hansen, who argue that Berkeley should model its prohibition after the stricter enforcement model enacted one year ago in Los Angeles:

“I don’t think it should be so difficult at all,” Hansen said. “It’s more … about educating people on the law.”

Hansen said she thinks Berkeley ought to look to Los Angeles, not San Francisco, for pay-to-play politics regulation — saying that the San Francisco Ethics Commission lacked the proper power to enforce any kind of punishment for violations of its campaign law.

As San Francisco’s politicians and donors have learned, it's easy to talk punishment when you’re not the poor compliance officer responsible for ensuring that your company’s board of directors, chairperson, chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, any twenty percent owner of your company (and their executives), any subcontractor listed in any bid or contract (and their executives), as well as any “committee” your company sponsors or controls (and their executives) are all fully aware of, and comply with, the pay-to-play laws passed throughout the country.

Now those will be aftershocks.

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