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Ethics Commission

Ethics Commission

What are "governmental ethics laws"?

Governmental ethics laws mean state and local laws governing campaign contribution limits, campaign contribution disclosure, campaign expenditure disclosure, statements of economic interests, receipt and disclosure of gifts, conflicts of interest, lobbying registration and disclosure, and other matters proposed by the ethics commission and adopted by a majority of the City Council. These laws are found in the San Diego Municipal Code at Chapter 2, Article 7, Division 29 Elections Campaign Control Ordinance (PDF: 110K); Chapter 2, Article 7, Division 35 Ethics Ordinance (PDF: 76K); and Chapter 2, Article 7, Division 40 Municipal Lobbying (PDF: 157K).

Who is a "City Official"?

For the purposes of the City's Ethics Ordinance (PDF), you are a "city official" if you are required to file a Statement of Economic Interests pursuant to the California Political Reform Act of 1974, and are (1) an elected or appointed City officeholder; (2) a member of a City board, commission, committee, or task force; (3) an unclassified City employee; or (4) a consultant of the City. If you fall within one of the above four categories and you are not sure if you file a Statement of Economic Interests, contact the City Clerk for assistance.

What laws does the ethics commission have jurisdiction to enforce?

The ethics commission enforces violations of the Election Campaign Control Ordinance, the Lobbying Ordinance, and the Ethics Ordinance. These laws are referred to as the local governmental ethics laws. Additional information concerning the commission's jurisdiction, including a discussion of the laws that are not within the commission's purview, can be found in the commission's jurisdiction FAQs.

The ethics commission has the authority to commence an administrative proceeding and impose fines if the commission believes a violation of local governmental ethics laws has taken place. The ethics commission does not have the authority to initiate a criminal proceeding, but may refer the matter to another law enforcement agency.

Who is the executive director, and what are the responsibilities of the position?

The executive director is a salaried public official hired by the ethics commission with the approval of the City Council. The executive director oversees the day-to-day operation of the ethics commission, and is responsible for conducting preliminary reviews of all complaints filed with the ethics commission, investigating these complaints, prosecuting these complaints, overseeing audits, providing advice on ethics matters, reviewing existing governmental ethics laws, and providing training to those subject to the City's governmental ethics laws.

How does the ethics commission differ from the FPPC?

The state's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) educates public officials and candidates on the requirements of the Political Reform Act, and investigates alleged violations of the Act. It's jurisdiction extends to public officials and candidates throughout the State of California, and to entities that lobby state officials. By comparison, the ethics commission operates locally, and its jurisdiction extends to city officials, candidates for elective City office, and entities that lobby city officials.

Although the City has incorporated some state law provisions into its Election Campaign Control Ordinance and its Ethics Ordinance, the City has also adopted many laws that are of a purely local nature. The FPPC does not regulate any of these local laws. For example, the ethics commission, not the FPPC, has jurisdiction over the City's contribution limits, the 180-day vendor debt rules, and online filing requirements for City candidates. In addition, the FPPC does not have jurisdiction over the City's lobbyists; the lobbying provisions in the Political Reform Act pertain solely to individuals who lobby state officials. By having a uniquely local perspective, the Ethics Commission is able to provide education and enforcement in a manner particularly suited to local officials, local candidates, and local lobbyists.

The commission has prepared a comparison chart (PDF) designed to clarify some of the differences between its duties and those of the FPPC.

How do the duties of the ethics commission differ from those of the City Attorney's Office?

The City Attorney's office prosecutes misdemeanors in criminal court. By contrast, the ethics commission enforces governmental ethics laws (campaign laws, ethics laws and lobbying laws) through administrative enforcement, which may result in the imposition of a fine. Violations of governmental ethics laws typically do not warrant criminal prosecution (which may lead to imprisonment or a criminal record). As evidenced by the creation of similar administrative enforcement agencies throughout the state and country (Los Angeles Ethics Commission, San Francisco Ethics Commission, Oakland Public Ethics Commission, California Fair Political Practices Commission, Federal Elections Commission), administrative tools are generally the preferred enforcement mechanism for violations of governmental ethics laws.

In addition, unlike the City Attorney's Office, the ethics commission provides advice and education to more than just City officials; it also offers assistance to City candidates, campaign staffers, ballot measure committees, and lobbyists. The ethics commission also oversees an ethics training program for nearly 1,300 City officials, including elected officials, unclassified employees, board and commission members, project area committee members, officers and employees of the City's agencies, and consultants.

Another unique duty of the ethics commission involves its auditing of campaign committees to ensure that information disclosed by City candidate and ballot measure committees is complete and accurate.

The commission has prepared a comparison report (PDF) designed to clarify some of the differences between its duties and those of the City Attorney's office.