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Since the San Diego City Council is considering a new lobbying ordinance, I thought I, as one of the “evil, greedy” members of that club, would make some comments. First, I am not opposed to disclosure … the more the merrier … what I am opposed to is preferential disclosure, meaning that since I am a “paid” lobbyist, somehow my activities are more in need of scrutiny than others. I am at a loss for how a “paid” lobbyist is more influential, particularly when compared to others who tout themselves as “volunteers.” These people wield large campaign expenditure accounts, something I don’t have at my disposal, and seem to curry favor with a simple, “Hi, I’m Juanita Thornmint from the Sierra Club …”
Not to be too naive, but any time I’ve come up against a well organized community in opposition to a development project, I have lost. So, where did all of my so-called power and influence have an impact? Dare I say that the community that was ostensibly saying, “Councilmember, vote our way or I will remember you at election time” had more power than the special interest power broker? Yes, they do.
Similarly, these “volunteer” organizations also wield more power than the slick-haired, black-shoed lobbyists that everyone pillories in public. These volunteers have the backing of sophisticated organizations that can mobilize thousands of so-called volunteers to make phone calls, walk precincts and otherwise influence election outcomes. This is far more valuable than a few bucks that are given in campaign contributions here at the local level. In addition, these organizations typically have campaign war chests through their political action committees that contribute tens of thousands of dollars for or against candidates, typically as independent expenditures. Unfortunately, these groups are not being targeted or regulated by the proposed ordinance.
Funny thing is, that creating two classes of special interests and regulating one in an overzealous and unenforceable manner, while allowing some of the other special interests masquerading as volunteer organizations to operate with total impunity is not appropriate and not in keeping with the stated purpose of this effort.
Again, I am all in favor of disclosure (saying it twice might have an impact), but perhaps we’re approaching it from the wrong direction. If you truly want to know who is working to influence an issue and believe disclosure is the way to address that concern, then why not have the politicians disclose who they are meeting with on the day of the hearing? Causing a few minutes of additional delay won’t derail the public hearing process and will allow the public to know who the elected official has spoken to about an issue. It works for the California Coastal Commission, and it could work here.
More on the campaign contribution disclosure sections in future posts.