Tucked away in a single paragraph within a 30-page agenda for Friday’s Ethics Commission meeting is a proposal from District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí that, while eminently sensible on its face, would effectively hamstring and financially starve a potential political opponent.
Safaí’s proposal would amend the city’s Campaign and Governmental Conduct code, restricting public funding for any candidate who, having received public funding in an earlier campaign, “failed to maintain complete campaign records … where the amount of expenditures for which there was incomplete records totaled $10,000 or more.”
This would, neatly, cut the public spigot for former Supervisor John Avalos, who hasn’t ruled out running for his old job in 2020. Three years ago, an Ethics Commission audit revealed that, during his 2011 run for mayor, Avalos “failed to maintain complete campaign records for expenditures made, totaling $391,594.” Over the past three years, Avalos has gone through old records and reduced that figure to $103,154 in unaccounted-for expenditures.
That is, for the record, more than $10,000.
Avalos accepts responsibility for the accusations leveled against him, and remains in negotiations with the Ethics Commission with regard to a future settlement.
“I am responsible. I know we fucked up,” Avalos told Mission Local. “My treasurers were all volunteers and we lost track of stuff. I will take full responsibility and I do apologize.” Even still, Avalos continued, “it looks like [Safaí] is targeting me. That is pretty desperate.”
Avalos served as District 11 supe from 2009 to 2017. He beat Safaí in 2008, and ran largely unopposed in 2012 after would-be challenger Leon Chow was outed for not living in the district and for using his work address to register to vote. Safaí bested Kim Alvarenga by several hundred votes in 2016 and took office the following year.
Safaí said the proposal was “something spurred out of a conversation with ethics commissioner Quentin Kopp. He wanted to run with it and asked me for my thoughts.” Safaí denied this was an attempt to undermine his frequent critic and once and potentially future competitor Avalos. “Oh, I have no idea who this particularly hits or not. I’m not focused on anything other than leading my district and focusing on the issues at hand.”
Kopp told Mission Local, however, that that it was Safaí who came up with the initial idea. “He mentioned it to me a couple years ago and I became interested,” Kopp said. “I said ‘provide me with a draft of the concept and I’ll give it to Ethics Commission staff.’ … I can tell you this: It was not directed at any person who had received public financing and violated some law or regulation. It was purely a concept.”
The rule change is referred to within Ethics Commission documentation as “a proposal made by Supervisor Safaí that would bar certain candidates from participating in the public financing program.”
Kopp felt this to be “a good rule — they are using taxpayer money. And misusing it.” Asked about how it would affect a potential run for Avalos, he replied, “I don’t care.”
Avalos says he is “not certain he is going to run” in 2020, and is “looking at other people who would consider running.” With regard to public financing, “the public needs to know their funds are being used right. I understand that,” he says. “But there are also notions in this country that we don’t do double jeopardy. As a candidate, I am accountable and I have been working with the Ethics Commission on what my penalty should be. When you commit an error, you should be held accountable for it. But not twice.”
The former supe stressed that while he didn’t have receipts at hand for all of his expenditures, he did have canceled checks.
In order to be ratified, Safaí’s proposal would need to meet the approval of four of the five ethics commissioners and two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors — and, considering the minimum 30-day wait between Friday’s Ethics hearing and when this could be put before the Board, it’s possible that the new supes being sworn in in January would have to approve this, not the current board.
Seemingly innocuous — but, in practice, consequential — changes to the law do slip through with some regularity, especially when they constitute a few words of text attached to vast amounts of documentation.
This occurs less frequently after such would-be changes have been covered in the media.