SF supervisor on hook for $191K penalty after Ethics Commission reverses decision 

After a two-hour hearing Friday, the Ethics Commission voted unanimously to reject a proposed waiver of a fine levied against Supervisor Mark Farrell for violating campaign laws.

That mean’s Farrell, who represents the Marina and Pacific Heights on the Board of Supervisors, is still on the hook to pay $191,000.

The commission voted 5-0 to overturn a waiver of the fine recommended by outgoing Ethics Commission chief John St. Croix, who did not attend the hearing and who announced his planned retirement in April. The fine stems from a Fair Political Practices Commission’s investigation that found Farrell’s campaign consultant had violated campaign laws by coordinating with an independent committee during the supervisor’s 2010 election to the board.

St. Croix’s draft waiver said that the basis for waiving the penalty was that the FPPC investigation didn’t turn up any evidence that Farrell was aware of the illegal activities. It also notes that Farrell’s attorney, James Sutton, has argued that the statute of limitations has run out on the penalty. St. Croix had previously imposed the penalty in December.

But the commission stood behind the fine Friday and said if Farrell objects to it he can take the matter to court.

In November, the FPPC levied a $14,500 fine against Chris Lee, founder and president of Town Square Consulting and Farrell’s 2010 campaign consultant, for coordinating with independent political committee Common Sense Voters. Campaign laws prohibit the coordination between the two committees. A candidate committee can only receive $500 contributions per donor, but an independent committee has no contribution limit.

Lee was found to have violated the Political Reform Act in five instances, with evidence showing Lee helped set up, fundraise and initially plan campaigning strategy for Common Sense Voters.

The Common Sense Voters committee received $141,000 from Republican Thomas Coates, a real estate investor, and $50,000 from socialite and philanthropist Diane “Dede” Wilsey.

In 2010, Farrell, new to politics, was in a heated battle with the more progressive Janet Reilly for the supervisor seat. Reilly’s attorney Charles Bell made arguments Friday in favor of the penalty.

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