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Campaign Contribution Solicitation

What does "solicitation" mean?

Solicitation, as this term is used in the City's Ethics Ordinance (PDF), refers to the practice of asking a person for a contribution to a political campaign. A "contribution" can be many things, and is explicitly defined in section 27.2903 of the San Diego Municipal Code. In general, however, a contribution includes any transfer of money; any loan or forgiveness of a loan; any promise to pay; any forgiveness of a debt; any expenditure made at the request of a candidate; any purchase of tickets for events such as dinners, luncheons, rallies and similar fundraising events; services rendered without full compensation; or any granting of a rebate or discount not generally available to the public. The Ethics Ordinance regulates the manner in which City employees are exposed to requests for these kinds of contributions.

What restrictions are placed on solicitation?

The City's Ethics Ordinance prohibits City Officials and candidates for City office from soliciting, directly or indirectly, a political contribution from a City employee with knowledge that the person from whom the contribution is solicited is a City employee.

Isn't political activity a protected constitutional right? How can the City tell me who I can't solicit?

The prohibition on solicitation is narrowly written to address a specific governmental concern. The solicitation prohibition is designed to prevent City employees from being pressured to give money to a candidate or measure they do not support. When such pressure comes from a supervisor or someone who works alongside a City employee, there is a potential threat of retaliation which may be perceived by the person being solicited. While political activity is indeed a protected right, the City has determined that in this instance that right is outweighed by a City employee's right to be free from undue pressure to financially support a political campaign.

Who is subject to the City's solicitation prohibitions?

All City officials and candidates for elective office of the City are prohibited from soliciting political contributions from City employees.

May I solicit City employees at their homes during their off-hours?

No. The Ethics Ordinance prohibits the solicitation of employees regardless of whether or not they are at work.

May a candidate solicit MEA or any other labor organization for employee contributions to a political campaign?

No. Doing so would constitute an indirect solicitation by the candidate. A candidate cannot do collectively what he or she is prohibited from doing individually.

Does this mean that a City employee cannot contribute to my campaign?

No. This restriction only pertains to the solicitation of a campaign contribution. It does not in any way restrict an individual's right to contribute to your campaign.

Does this mean that I should not accept campaign contributions from a City employee?

No. This restriction only pertains to the solicitation of a campaign contribution. It does not in any way restrict your right to receive contributions from a City officer or employee who wishes to support your campaign.

I am a volunteer board member. May I solicit political contributions?

Perhaps. If you are required to file an annual Statement of Economic Interests because of your membership on a City board or commission, you are considered a City Official, and you may not solicit City employees for a political campaign contribution. If, however, you do not file an annual Statement of Economic Interests, then you are not considered a City Official for the purposes of the Ethics Ordinance, and there are no local regulations restricting your ability to solicit City employees for political contributions.

I am a volunteer board member. Does the Ethics Ordinance protect me from being solicited for a political campaign contribution?

No. The Ethics Ordinance (PDF) prohibition only applies to solicitations made to City employees. It does not address the solicitation of contributions from members of City boards, commissions, task forces, or advisory bodies. While a provision in the Municipal Code does prohibit members of the Ethics Commission from being solicited for political campaign contributions, there are no local regulations in place that prevent the solicitation of other board or commission members. You should be aware, however, that the San Diego City Attorney has issued a formal opinion (PDF: 40K) concluding that California law (Government Code section 3205) prohibits public officials and candidates from soliciting political campaign contributions from board and commission members who are required to file an annual Statement of Economic Interests.

I plan to send campaign solicitation e-mails and paper mailers to five thousand people. Do I have to ensure that none of the recipients are City employees?

An e-mail or paper mail solicitation made to a significant segment of the public will not violate the Ethics Ordinance if it doesn't intentionally target any City employees, even if some City employees inadvertently receive the solicitation. For this exception to apply, you must have no reason to believe that a City employee is receiving your solicitation. Thus, if you are creating the list of recipients, you may not add someone to the list who you know to be a City employee, regardless of the size of your recipient list. For lists that you purchase, you should exercise reasonable due diligence to filter out the names of City employees. For e-mails, this means combing the list of e-mail addresses to remove those that end with a domain name associated with the City of San Diego or any of its agencies: sandiego.gov, ccdc.com, sedcinc.com, sdhc.org, sddpc.org, and visitsandiego.com. For paper mailings, it would be prudent to review the recipient list to remove the names of individuals you know to be City employees. Under no circumstances should you use the City's Outlook address book or a list of City employees to target potential contributors.

Does the solicitation regulation apply only to City of San Diego candidate elections?

No. The Ethics Ordinance ban on soliciting City employees pertains to requests for campaign contributions for any political matter. A City Official may not knowingly solicit a contribution from a City employee even if the contribution is for a ballot measure or for a candidate seeking county, state, or federal office.

I still have questions. How do I get help?

The Ethics Commission is available to provide telephonic or written advice regarding these matters.