One of the major issues in the currently ongoing process of revising this City’s Municipal Lobbying Ordinance has to do with the level of detail about their contacts with City officials that lobbyists should be required to disclose. Currently they don’t have to disclose much, but there’s a proposal on the table to require them to disclose each contact with a City official including which issue was discussed.
Naturally, the lobbyists hate this idea. Their big argument against it, which has, to their everlasting shame, been echoed by a number of Ethics Commissioners, is that this level of disclosure would require so much work that the entire lobbying industry in Los Angeles would be driven into bankruptcy. This, of course, is ridiculous, not least because, just for instance, our silicon-addled redheaded step-cousins up North in the City and County of San Francisco require precisely this information on their disclosure forms without, obviously, having driven the industry into the ground. It’s fascinating to look at these disclosures, by the way. Check out San Francisco’s lobbyist directory for links to all of it.1
And one of the major arguments in favor of requiring lobbyists to disclose each contact with a City official and the issue discussed is that it would facilitate requesting records of the City via the California Public Records Act, and thus promote transparency. This is a great argument in the abstract, but concrete arguments are always more persuasive.2 Oh, I forgot to mention it, but in San Francisco, BID staffers register as lobbyists, unlike in Los Angeles.3 So, in keeping with the blog’s BID theme, I thought I’d try out my little test on Karin Flood, executive directrix of San Francisco’s Union Square BID. Turn the page to find out what happened!
I read through her Q1 2017 disclosure and picked out an interesting looking issue, which was “Revocation Of Abandoned Flower Stand – 250 Post St.” It seems that she discussed this on five occasions with San Francisco County supervisor Aaron Peskin. Hence I fired off an email to Aaron Peskin asking for:
… electronic copies of emails from February and March 2017 between you and/or your staff on the one hand and Karin Flood of the Union Square BID on the other hand that have to do with the revocation of an abandoned flower stand at 250 Post Street.
And San Francisco is, of course, famous for its Municipal Sunshine Ordinance which, unlike the situation in Los Angeles, makes the local officials up there extraordinarily eager to cooperate with requests. I have tested this phenomenon before. So it wasn’t that surprising when, a mere 21 days after my initial request, I received a complete set of the emails I’d requested from Lee Hepner, who’s one of Aaron Peskin’s staffers.
I popped them up on Archive.Org for your pleasurable perusal. Lee Hepner sent me EMLs, which is another amazing thing, given that no government agency in Southern California will do this.4 Note also that they sent them without redacting any of the personal email addresses. There’s probably nothing in CPRA that allows redaction of personal email addresses that are sent voluntarily to the government, but local agencies, at least in Southern California, tend to do it anyway, mostly, I believe, to delay production and also to have a superficially plausible reason for printing the emails to paper, which the law allows them to charge money for.
Anyway, if you’re interested in local San Franciscan politics, maybe the contents of these emails will interest you. My interest, which was more than satisfied, is in the fact that the detailed disclosure required by the San Francisco Ethics Commission, worked exactly as expected to strengthen government transparency. On that note, let me close by reminding you that it is not too late to send your comments on the proposed MLO revisions to email@example.com!
Image of Karin Flood started out like this and ended up like you see it up there, where it proudly bears this badge: ©2017 MichaelKohlhaas.Org.
- It’s absolutely fascinating. If I weren’t entirely bereft of giveable fucks in any context that includes San Francisco, I’d spend hours every day reading this stuff. If lobbyists in Los Angeles are ever required to disclose this much information I might never leave my computer again.
- Completely off-topic, but if you haven’t heard the famous bon mot about Louis Agassiz that arose from the fate of his statue during the 1906 earthquake, you can read a pretty reasonable description of it here on Stanford’s website. Just search in page for Agassiz.
- For now, anyway. One of my major longterm projects here is to get those bad BIDdies registered. I think this one’s going to happen, but probably not soon.
- BIDs often will, and I’m paying them the courtesy here of agreeing just in this context with the egregiously mendacious bullshit position that everyone in City government and BID governance takes, which is that they’re private organizations. It’s not true, I just don’t have the space, the time, the motivation, or the energy to dispute it in this particular limited context.