Being a member of the Ethics Commission, I would be remiss if I did not touch briefly on the proposed changes to the City’s Lobbying Ordinance being presented to the City Council’s Rules Committee next Wednesday. This proposal constitutes some simple and uncomplicated revisions to our laws that will dramatically enhance transparency at City Hall. Two areas in particular are worth highlighting.
The first area addresses the thresholds for registering as a lobbyist. Currently, if a person earns $2,700 in a calendar quarter to influence a municipal decision, that person must register as a lobbyist. Unfortunately, this system allows a lot of people to do a lot of lobbying without having to register. For instance, if a lobbyist earns $100,000.00 per year and meets with every single council member for thirty minutes once a week for twelve weeks, she would not meet the threshold for registering as a lobbyist. In October 2005, the Union-Tribune pointed out a number of well-known and influential lobbyists who had failed to register. It turned out many of them didn’t need to register because they did not qualify as lobbyists under the current rules.
Clearly, the current state of affairs is not acceptable because many lobbyists are flying under the radar of public disclosure.
The commission’s proposal addresses this problem in two simple ways. First, if an individual is hired as a lobbyist and earns $1 to influence a municipal decision, that person must register as a lobbyist. This $1 threshold applies to so-called contract lobbyists who work for lobbying firms. Second, if a person contacts one or more high-ranking city officials ten times in 60 days for the purpose of influencing a municipal decision, that person must also register as a lobbyist. This contact threshold applies to in-house lobbyists who work for companies. These two fixes will insure that the public knows who is lobbying its city officials.
In addition, the proposal includes a provision to enhance the amount of information lobbyists must disclose. Currently, lobbyists must disclose the names of their clients, how much they are paid and what municipal decision(s) they are paid to influence. The commission’s proposal additionally requires disclosure of which high-ranking city official(s) the lobbyists meet with and the amount of campaign contributions the lobbyists take credit for raising for each elected official lobbied. This change will insure the public knows who is being lobbied and how much money was raised for them.
Effective, simple, and transparent.