Recent changes to the authority and structure of the Public Ethics Commission (PEC or Commission) have resulted in key achievements in the past 2.5 years. Here are the highlights:
Clear, Effective Rules:
- New Government Ethics Act – new local law restricting ethics violations such as bribery, conflicts of interest, nepotism, and misuse of City resources (adopted December 2014).
- Campaign Reform Act – strengthens the PEC’s authority, clarifies language, and aligns the Act with the recently revised City Charter and California political reform laws (adopted November 2016).
Swift, Fair Enforcement:
- Caseload, fine amounts, and seriousness of potential violations under review are at an all-time high - the PEC imposed its most serious and largest penalty to date in 2016 – a $14,400 penalty for intentional laundering of campaign contributions.
- Clear penalty guidelines – the PEC created a new guide for determining fine amounts to ensure that fines are consistent, fair, and commensurate to the violation.
- Subpoenas to compel records – the PEC issued its first-ever subpoena in June 2016 and issued 28 in total through July 2017, including obtaining a court order to compel compliance with a subpoena by an elected official in November 2016.
Consistent Education and Advice:
- New Ethics training for all Public Servants – all new employees now receive introductory ethics training during new employee orientation, and all existing employees receive the intro training via HR. A comprehensive, one-hour training for Form 700 filers is in development.
- Requests for advice have increased tenfold in only the first half of 2017 – PEC staff have responded to 184 advice requests so far this year from officials, staff, and stakeholders seeking to comply with the law, compared with 14 requests in all of 2013.
Accurate and Accessible Data:
- Campaign finance disclosure – the PEC facilitated the creation of a new online application that shows campaign data more clearly for broader use by Oaklanders via OpenDisclosure.
- Stadium/Arena ticket use – the PEC illuminated data on City tickets used by elected officials and shared the information in its report Ensuring Ethical and Transparent Distribution of City Tickets and Ticket Distribution Policy webpage.
Effective Systems That Drive Desired Behavior:
- PEC as a catalyst – the PEC recruited, hired and trained 5 new staff in 2015 and 2016, created a new office space on the first floor of City Hall, revamped operational policies and procedures, and augmented enforcement processes to better accomplish the PEC’s goals.
- Enhancing City systems for greater integrity – the PEC reviewed the City’s process for distributing tickets to Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena events, published its findings, which included ethical concerns with the current process, and crafted a proposed revised City policy.
With much accomplished, we still have critical work ahead to make the City’s government integrity systems stronger, clearer, and more effective for 21st Century government. The PEC will continue to expand its prevention and enforcement work, while also digging into deeper issues such as its next project to redesign the City’s laws to shrink the influence of money in politics and expand the power of citizens in local democracy.
Whitney Barazoto, Executive Director