San Francisco Lobbyists' Failure to Report Their Activities -- For Years -- Was No Secret

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The San Francisco Examiner this week reported that while the lobbyists San Francisco employs to push for the city's interests in Sacramento and elsewhere are required to file quarterly reports detailing how they're spending nearly half a million dollars of public money, they have, in fact, only filed one report since 2005.

Too bad no one's being paid to lobby for accountability!

This serves as yet another opportunity to reference Casablanca, in which Captain Renault was "shocked, shocked" that there was gambling in a casino. Lobbyists who'd failed to file a report since '05 were -- wait for it -- shocked that they actually had to publicly disclose what they did with public money. John St. Croix, the executive director of San Francisco's Ethics Commission, offered a mea culpa: "We all dropped the ball on this. It's my fault we didn't go after it. I don't think there was an attempt to hide anything." 

It's nice to hear someone actually take responsibility -- so nice, in fact, that the media and others often act as if it ameliorates the situation that the apologist should have handled in the first place. Because this was not a case of "dropping the ball." It was a situation in which the Ethics Commission knew where the ball was, and made no effort to catch it. Complaints of lobbyists flouting city laws and Ethics doing little to nothing about it had been made for years before the Examiner story. 

In September, 2008 testimony before the Board of Supervisors' Government Audit and Oversight Committee -- later forwarded to every member of the Ethics Commission -- longtime San Francisco political fixture Larry Bush pointed out exactly the situation St. Croix is now wringing his hands about:

The city's own Sacramento lobbyist costs and activities are not being reported to the public and the Board by Ethics, despite the fact that the Ethics Commission's own web page provides a special section for those reports - and then leaves out all information on who is hired, how much they are paid, and what they seek to influence on the city's behalf. In the current legislative year, Sacramento records report that the San Francisco Office of the Mayor has paid a lobbyist more than $426,000 to lobby State officials, but this information is nowhere to be found in the reports required in the city's Ethics Commission.

Incidentally, this is not the first time St. Croix has employed the phrase "dropped the ball." That's how he described Ethics' decision to sit on what would become the City College of San Francisco scandal currently making its way through the courts. While Ethics' staffer Oliver Luby uncovered what the District Attorney is now claiming to be a serious case of money laundering in 2005, he claims St. Croix told him to keep quiet about it. The Chronicle broke that story, but not for more than a year. "I don't know who dropped the ball," St. Croix eventually told the paper.

Perhaps this much is aparent -- Ethics just doesn't like having balls thrown its way.

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