Sunday, January 12, 2014

Who Paid for SF DA's 12 Out-of -Town Junkets in 2013?

My recent public records request for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, a very ambitious political figure, was for his calender from April 1 through December 31, 2013, and his office complied rapidly and produced the public document in electronic format. Before we get into what was on his calender, I must pipe up and say taxpayers need to demand our elected officials and department heads post their calenders on their sites on their sites at the end of every month. We need to sunshine how they spend their time as our employees.

In late April, I looked at Gascon's calender for the first three months of 2013 and I've taken info from that period and combined it with what was on his calender for the final nine months of the year. Unlike in April, I've decide not to post the calender for those remaining months because I am not Gascon's sunshine staffer. You can email his spokesman Alex Bastian for a copy of his calenders:

(Gascon speaking at a press conference in New York City in June organized by the New York state Attorney General. Credit: Bebeto Matthews, AP.)

This is the breakdown of Gascon's twelve junkets last year for various personal and professional reasons:

Jan. 29 - 30: Palm Springs, CA
June 6 - 8: Cambridge, MA
June 13: New York, NY
June 22: Los Angeles, CA
June 27: Washington, DC
Sept. 11 - 13: Seattle, WA
Sept. 25: Philadelphia, PA
Oct. 10 -11: Washington, DC
Oct: 24: Denver, CO
Dec. 5 -6: Cambridge, MA
Dec. 12: San Diego, CA
Dec. 17: Austin, TX

A few questions need to be answered, starting with who paid for those trips - taxpayers or private groups, is he making all legally required disclosures regarding travel as a City employee, has he on his site explained why he was on those trips and what tangible benefit it was to San Francisco residents?

Speaking of Gascon's travels, he may have broken the law about reporting a trip paid for by a non-City organization when he went on a junket to DC in early October, and the costs were borne by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. He was supposed to declare this info _before_ the junket, but as the filing made last week with the Ethics Commission reveals, he violated the law and waited more than two months _after_ the junket to meet his legal obligation.

This is the pertinent wording of Section 3.216(d)(1) that applies to the district attorney's Oct. junket to DC. Bolding has been added:

(d) Gifts of Travel.
(1) Gifts to Elected Officers. In addition to the gift limits and reporting requirements imposed by the Political Reform Act and this Code, no elected officer may accept a gift of transportation, lodging, or subsistence for any out-of-state trip paid for in part by an entity other than the City and County of San Francisco, another governmental body, or a bona fide educational institution, defined in Section 203 of the Revenue and Taxation Code, unless the officer has first disclosed on a form filed with the Ethics Commission [...]

I'd file another complaint with the commission if I knew it took such violations seriously, investigated expeditiously and penalized the violators, but after making several such complaints with the commission last year that were a waste time, I'm not going down that futile path again. The commission's failures to penalize and publicize wrongdoers was a reminder how it matters who you are and the job title you hold when dealing with regulatory and criminal justice agencies in San Francisco.

Regarding press conferences, Gascon had 52 listed on his calender and 136 media interviews with assorted media outlets. He sure likes keeping himself in the news, but what he does not do is list events like who he meets with at his office or around town.

Most of his days, there are no events listed and if something is on his calender, it's either a media interview or presser, or a trip out of town or an appearance locally such as attending two events with the Alice B. Toklas Club, which is the home Democratic club for the Castro's District 8 Supervisor.

Finally, Gascon is violating the law mandating he disclose gifts to his office on his About page. For the past month, maybe longer, when you click on his disclosures link, it opens up his annual report in Chinese.

There needs to be much more scrutiny of the DA's travels, what his calenders reveal regarding his activities, and how well he meets all disclosure laws.

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