Board approves gift to Gascón 

$26K in donated office furniture stirs up transparency questions. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • $26K in donated office furniture stirs up transparency questions.

A $26,000 gift of office furnishings received by District Attorney George Gascón was approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, but not without some questions about whether it was good practice and even if the proper disclosure form was filed.

Last week, Gascón said he had requested help with obtaining furnishings. Donations rolled in, beginning with a $9,999 gift from Ron Conway, the Silicon Valley angel investor guiding San Francisco’s current tech boom.

The gift became a subject of a sunshine complaint, but Gascón said he was in compliance with gift and disclosure rules. A May 10 letter from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission said the agency “declines to open an investigation on this matter,” adding that the “items do not convey a personal benefit” since they were donated and become the permanent property of The City.

Elected officials are prohibited from personally receiving gifts valued in excess of $440, but gifts to city departments or gifts made on behalf of a city official can exceed that limit. Gifts in excess of $10,000 made to city departments require board approval.

The state form filed by Gascón to disclose the gift is called a Behested Payment Report, or California Form 803, which is required under state law when gifts are made at the behest of an officeholder “for legislative, governmental or charitable purposes.”

San Francisco’s elected officials seldom engage in this activity, but it’s not unheard of. In 2012, eight elected officials filed these forms and six did so in the first five months of this year, according to the Ethics Commission. Filers included Mayor Ed Lee and supervisors David Chiu, Malia Cohen and Mark Farrell.

A filing by Cohen disclosed $5,900 from seven contributors to the Old Skool Café, a Bayview district violence-prevention program. A filing by Farrell reported four payments totaling $30,000 from Google, PG&E and Kaiser as a fundraiser for the Neighborhood Schoolyards Project, which provides money to keep schoolyards open on weekends for public use.

Chiu disclosed a $100,000 gift from the Foundation to pay for a playground at Sue Bierman Park on the waterfront.

Lee’s filings included $10,000 for his low-income youth scholarship program from two energy companies, PG&E and Amersco.

The board approved Gascón’s gift Tuesday in a 10-1 vote, with Supervisor John Avalos opposing. Avalos said Gascón should follow the city attorney’s general advice and file a different state form, Form 801, which shows the similar information but denotes the gifts “provide a personal benefit,” such as meals or travel, and identifies the beneficiaries.

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