For Sunshine Week, NBC 7 Investigates wanted to know how easy it was to obtain a copy of a Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) from local agencies.
In California, more than 500,000 people are required to file an SEI, also known as a California form 700, because of their position as a public official. The forms are filed as part of the Political Reform Act (PRA), according to the Fair Political Practices Committee (FPPC) based in Sacramento.
The forms are the basic conflict of interest code which say no public official can make or participate in making or influencing a government decision they know or should have known they have a personal or financial interest in. The forms are signed under oath.
According to the law, each agency must determine its own conflict of interest code based on guidance in the PRA and which people qualify to file an SEI.
The forms can be obtained by physically visiting a public official’s offices.
Government agencies are required to provide a copy when asked. Currently, not all forms can be accessed online.
The FPPC said there is a movement toward centralizing access to these forms online through electronic filing.
NBC 7 Investigates visited the offices of four local government officials to see how accessible these documents are.
The first stop was at Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office. Staff at the San Diego Mayor’s Office was friendly and helpful, but did not have the form in their office. Instead, it was located on the second floor of the building with the San Diego City Clerk. Inside the Clerk’s Office there is a computer where citizens can search for the SEI they want and leave with a printed copy in hand.
Click here to view the Mayor’s SEI.
The next stop was the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. NBC 7 Investigates was not able to access the form initially. When asked about the SEI, individuals working at the front desk did not know what it was. A representative for the City Attorney called two days after the office visit with instructions on where to find it online.
Click here to view the City Attorney’s SEI.
NBC 7 Investigates also stopped by the the San Diego Police Department to ask for the form. During the visit, the SEI was not immediately provided but an SDPD representative followed up with a phone call, instructing where to find the document online.
Click here to view the Police Chief’s SEI.
When searching for San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ SEI, NBC 7 Investigates was directed to three different locations before ending up in the Special Operations Department. A deputy district attorney found the form online and sent it over.
In an email, Communications Director for the DA, Steve Walker, said, “providing public records and access to public information is a priority at the District Attorney’s Office through our website, public affairs staff, and timely responses to nearly 100 California Public Records Act requests each year.”
Click here to view Dumanis’ SEI.
Below are notes about NBC 7 Investigates visit to the departments in search of the SEI forms:
- At the Mayor’s Office, no one asked who was requesting the document. A woman at the front desk said the SEI was with the City Clerk, sent me down to the second floor. I spoke to a woman on the second floor, asked her for the SEI. She told me that another woman could give me this form but I would need to wait for her to come back. After waiting, a woman helped me print off the form from a computer in the office, did not charge me the $0.10 fee because I was sent from the Mayor’s office.
- At the City Attorney's Office, I was asked who was requesting the document. A woman at the desk wanted to know my name and why I was there. I was questioned about who I am and where I was from. I was told to leave my phone number and email to have someone call me back. A woman called me Thursday March 10 in the afternoon, said to access it on the city clerk’s office online, type in Jan Goldsmith, it pops up.
- At the SDPD, no one asked who was requesting the document. I was asked to call a number asking for the document. After calling twice I was directed on where to find the form online. I searched for Shelley Zimmerman and found a .pdf version of the form.
- At the District Attorney's Office, was asked who was requesting the document. One woman said she didn't know what an SEI was and sent me to special operations on 10th floor. Woman on the 10th floor said she didn't know what it was or why they sent me to talk to her. She went to ask people in the back of the office. A deputy district attorney was helpful and gave me his card. The deputy district attorney quickly responded, with links and a .pdf of the form.
This is one of a series of posts from NBC 7 Investigates highlighting the public’s right of access to information. The stories were published to coordinate with Sunshine Week, an annual campaign bringing attention to federal and local access issues. In California, the public is able to request information from government agencies, offices and officials through the California Public Records Act. For more information on how to request information click here.