SF supervisors OK changes to charitable program

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 30, 2022
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Supervisor Rafael Mandelman successfully passed a resolution that makes changes to a charitable giving program for city employees. Photo: Courtesy Rafael Mandelman
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman successfully passed a resolution that makes changes to a charitable giving program for city employees. Photo: Courtesy Rafael Mandelman

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to approve an update of agencies qualified to participate in the city's employee fundraising program, Heart of the City.

Following concerns raised by city employees about the destination of monies raised under the city's combined charities program, the Board of Supervisors' Rules Committee agreed Monday to recommend updating the regulations concerning agencies qualified to participate in the 2022 Annual Joint Fundraising Drive for officers and employees of the City and County of San Francisco.

Sponsored by gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, the measure passed 3-0 in committee before the full board approved the resolution the following day without comment. Mandelman said the new program is intended to be temporary so that city employees can make contributions this year.

The matter came up after concerns were raised in October that one of the four charitable giving federations to which employees could donate, Creating Healthier Communities, included a number of anti-LGBTQ groups in its mix of charitable organizations. (A request for comment from the organization was not returned.)

This resulted in the city pausing the program altogether.

Tuesday's passage of the measure will allow the city to resume the program but with an abbreviated list of donation recipients. Employees are still able to write in additional charities to which they want to donate.

On Monday, rules committee members Mandelman and Supervisors Aaron Peskin (District 3) and Connie Chan (District 1) heard three proposals for overhauling the program, presented by Sophie Hayward, legislation and public affairs director for City Administrator Carmen Chu.

The proposals included passing an ordinance to amend the Administrative Code "to alter the criteria for participation in the campaign;" passing an ordinance to limit participation in the campaign to funds based in San Francisco, such as Give2SF; or simply discontinuing the program.

Calling the effort to overhaul the system "a temporary and imperfect solution," Mandelman said any efforts launched right now could allow the program to continue through the year, in order to face a thorough review early in 2023. "Tinkering" with the first alternative to bring the program into compliance could potentially result in a "ton of brain damage" Mandelman said and, after dismissing it, the supervisors went on to the other two proposals.

Peskin wondered if, given access to the internet, a program such as Heart of the City was even necessary.

"Do we want to devote a full-time staff to an ongoing program in an environment where charitable giving has many less barriers?" Peskin asked. "I lean towards starting a conversation where we excise this program in toto."

Chan agreed it was time "to reinvent this program;" she asked to be added as a co-sponsor of the measure.

"The third bullet is certainly the simplest," observed Mandelman. "The concern for me is that there are these 3,000 people who currently use, and presumably like, the current program."

Hayward noted that while her department had received many complaints about the matter, they had also "received a lot of email in support" of the program. She suggested looking at payroll deductions and, possibly, no longer processing individual checks. Other revisions might also be workable, she added.

There was no public comment at the rules committee.

The charity program is popular among city workers because by donating a little at a time over the course of a year, paycheck-by-paycheck, they can give more, better supporting nonprofits that are important to them, according to promotional materials the Bay Area Reporter previously reviewed. The fear, however, is that donations made to the CHC federation were being distributed to right-wing groups, whether or not the donor specified them as recipients.

While other organizations such as the Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR), the American Heart Association, and the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation are among the potential recipients, so too were right-wing organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Family Association. Both of these groups, only two of numerous organizations in the list of potential donation targets, have been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as being anti-LGBTQ.

"The American Family Association (AFA) says it promotes 'traditional moral values' in media," notes SPLC on its website. "A large part of that work involves 'combating the homosexual agenda' through various means, including publicizing companies that have pro-gay policies and organizing boycotts against them."

The Family Research Council is another anti-LGBTQ group CHC has listed.

Of the Alliance Defending Freedom, SPLC states it "is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claims that a 'homosexual agenda' will destroy Christianity and society."

In fact, Alliance Defending Freedom will be presenting oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court December 5 in a case that has ramifications for LGBTQ people. ADF has asked web designer Lorie Smith to press a preemptive case against a Colorado public accommodations law protecting LGBTQ people, saying that if she did offer wedding page services, she would not want to offer them to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs.

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