Points to Take Away from the Mohammed Nuru Investigation February 2020

Though the federal complaint against San Francisco City employee Mohammed Nuru alleges criminal activities, including official governmental action in exchange for luxury trips, home improvements and cash payments, the complaint should serve as a warning to lobbyists, political consultants, City contractors and others involved in local politics about the importance of complying with gift, lobbying, and other ethics laws.  Even those who are trying to comply with the law and do not have “corrupt intent” could become embroiled in an investigation because of errors or oversights.

     The references in the Nuru complaint to gift, lobbying, and ethics laws signal that law enforcement agencies are well aware of local filing requirements.  The complaint notes that Nuru should have reported the gifts he allegedly received from the real estate developer on his annual Statements of Economic Interests (Form 700), and mentions that a permit expediter disclosed payments from clients, as well as contacts with City officials, on his lobbyist reports filed with the Ethics Commission.

     San Francisco’s gifts, lobbying and ethics laws – which seem to be amended every year – are far too extensive to summarize in this Alert, but the Nuru complaint serves as a reminder of the following legal requirements, which are often overlooked:

     *    Taking a City official or employee out to lunch or buying him or her drinks constitutes the making of a “gift” subject to strict limits and reporting requirements, and may be prohibited if done by a registered lobbyist, prospective City contractor, or person otherwise doing business with the City.

     *    “Favors” done for City officials or employees may constitute reportable or illegal gifts, even if in the form of intangible or volunteer services.

     *    Registered lobbyists must list all of their lobbying contacts with City officials and employees on their monthly lobbying reports.

     *    “Permit expediters” often have to register and file their own reports similar to lobbying reports with the Ethics Commission.

     *    The RFP process typically prohibits bidders from interacting directly with Commissioners.

     Put another way, even if you are not giving Warriors tickets to a Supervisor’s aide or hiring a Department head’s daughter as a “quid pro quo” for that employee’s or official’s support for your project, you still might be triggering various laws and reporting requirements.
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     Feel free to contact a Sutton Law Firm attorney or Political Compliance Specialist if you have any questions regarding these San Francisco gift, lobbying or ethics laws.