Tag Archives: 501(c)(3) Organizations

Worst-Of-The-Bunch Ethics Commission Veep Serena Oberstein, Who’s Paid $87,500 Annually By Her 501(c)(3) Employer Vision To Learn, Both Of Whom Were Poised To Reap Benefit From Version Of Municipal Lobbying Ordinance Revision Pushed Hard By Serena Oberstein, Suspiciously Neglected To Mention This Fact In Any Of The Literally Zillions Of Public Forums Held On The Matter

It hasn’t even been two weeks since the Los Angeles Ethics Commission put our City’s Municipal Lobbying Ordinance in danger of being made meaningless, primarily at the instigation of worst-of-the-bunch Commission Veep Serena Oberstein, with respect to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, so it’s not surprising that all the ramifications of their misfeasance have not yet been completely understood. Along those lines, therefore, here’s another episode from the ethical Twilight Zone in which at least some members of the Commission seem to dwell in these latter days.

You see, Serena Oberstein is not just the City’s most corrupt Ethics Commissioner, what with her sub rosa agenda-pushing for her nonprofit buddies Shyaam Subramanian1 and Nancy Berlin, amongst others, not to mention her refusal to agendize a perfectly reasonable request that her Commission disclose their ex parte communications,2 she’s also the Chief Operating Officer of some Westside do-gooder outfit called Vision to Learn.

And while I had some inchoate notion that her involvement with 501(c)(3) nonprofits might explain at least some of her motivations in the recent fiasco, whereby mostly at Serena Oberstein’s instigation, the Commission ended up recommending to the Council that all 501(c)(3)s with gross annual revenues under $2 million be exempt from registration as lobbyists, I hadn’t taken the time to investigate. But recently it occurred to me to look at Vision to Learn’s3 Form 990s to see how the modifications pushed by Serena Oberstein would affect her employer.4 I published the last few years here on Archive.Org, or you can go directly to the PDFs here:

So take a look at the evidence yourself, or turn the page to see what I found!
Continue reading Worst-Of-The-Bunch Ethics Commission Veep Serena Oberstein, Who’s Paid $87,500 Annually By Her 501(c)(3) Employer Vision To Learn, Both Of Whom Were Poised To Reap Benefit From Version Of Municipal Lobbying Ordinance Revision Pushed Hard By Serena Oberstein, Suspiciously Neglected To Mention This Fact In Any Of The Literally Zillions Of Public Forums Held On The Matter

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Los Angeles Ethics Commissioners Fail To Understand Their Powers And Duties Under The City Charter And Thereby Inadvertently (??) Set The Stage For Exempting Nearly All 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Organizations In Los Angeles From The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

It seems like forever now, although it’s only been two years, that the Los Angeles Ethics Commission has been discussing proposed changes to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance (MLO). At this point I just don’t have it in me to summarize the discussion any more, although you can find links to most of my posts on the subject in this post on the penultimate phase of the matter.

At the Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, which you can watch in its entirety right here (or here on Archive.Org if you prefer), there were only two matters left to settle. One was the issue of detailed reporting of contacts between lobbyists and City Officials. I hope to write on what happened with that later on. The other, and the subject of today’s post, had to do with exemptions from the MLO for 501(c)(3) nonprofits. You can watch the whole discussion beginning here. These organizations enjoy some exemptions now by virtue of LAMC §48.03(E,F). You can read the statute for yourself, but essentially it exempts 501(c)(3)s1 which have “… the purpose of representing the interests of indigent persons and whose primary purpose is to provide direct services to those persons…”

As they are wont to do, the staff, in the persons of Director of Policy Arman Tarzi and Mark Low, head of the lobbying program, provided the Commission with a detailed set of recommendations. There were four different options given that had to do with nonprofits, which you can read in the proposal. Of these, three were developed by staff and the fourth2 was provided by nonprofits and proposed to exempt all nonprofits, no matter what they do, which have gross annual receipts of under $2.5 Million.

Never content to leave well enough alone, these hyperorganized nonprofits presented the Commission with a so-called “Option 5,” which they circulated at the meeting. This option proposed to modify LAMC §48.03(E) to exempt from the MLO:

E. Any organization exempt from federal taxation pursuant to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that:
1. Provides assistance, such as food, clothing, shelter, child care, health, legal, vocational, relief, educational, and other similar assistance to disadvantaged people for free or at a significantly below-market rate; OR
2. Has gross receipts of less than $2.5 million.
This exemption also applies to the organization’s employees and board members while engaged in official duties. This exemption does not apply when an organization is seeking funding, property, or a permit from the City on its own behalf.

Continue reading Los Angeles Ethics Commissioners Fail To Understand Their Powers And Duties Under The City Charter And Thereby Inadvertently (??) Set The Stage For Exempting Nearly All 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Organizations In Los Angeles From The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

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Ethics Commissioner Serena Oberstein’s Undisclosed Ex Parte Communication With Lobbyists Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin In Hallway Fifteen Minutes Before Ethics Commission Meeting Casts Some Doubt On Everyone’s Commitment To Transparency

Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin talking to Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein in the hallway before Tuesday’s Ethics Commission meeting. She thanked them for giving her language, presumably to do with the MLO, and actually took notes on it in her phone. Click to enlarge.

In August the Ethics Commission continued the multiyear discussion about revising the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The next stage in the process was three interested persons’ meetings held in September, and then on to more discussion at yesterday’s Ethics Commission meeting. The meeting was essentially interminable,1 and I recorded the whole lobbying discussion. You can watch it either on Archive.Org or on YouTube:

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV •.

Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein taking notes on “language” provided to her by lobbyists Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin. Click to enlarge.

I hope to write about the outcome of the discussion as soon as possible, although things are ultra-busy here at MK.Org secret headquarters. The short version is that the Commission accepted most of what staff recommended with a few changes and two items to be discussed even more at the December meeting. In any case, it turns out that the most interesting part of the meeting, and I don’t think this is so uncommon in City Hall, took place in the hallway fifteen minutes before the call to order.

There, I was lucky enough to witness lobbyists2 Shyaam Subramanian of Bolder Advocacy and Nancy Berlin of CalNonprofits engaged in an intense conversation with Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein about proposed revisions to the MLO involving nonprofit corporations, whose interests both of them are compensated to represent to the City. At one point she even thanked them for giving her “language,” presumably having to do with their preferred outcome in the upcoming meeting, and went so far as to take notes on it in her phone!
Continue reading Ethics Commissioner Serena Oberstein’s Undisclosed Ex Parte Communication With Lobbyists Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin In Hallway Fifteen Minutes Before Ethics Commission Meeting Casts Some Doubt On Everyone’s Commitment To Transparency

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Video Of Third Interested Persons’ Meeting Now Available, Featuring Among Other Things Some Exceptionally Whiny Non-Profits Whose Whole Argument Against Regulation Seems To Be That The Ethics Commission Is Strapping Extra Pianos To Their Back Just Like Donald Trump Does To Poor People, Conveniently Forgetting The Fact That Nonprofit Status Is A Huge Freaking Public Subsidy

No doubt you recall that the Los Angeles Ethics Commission is presently working on proposing revisions to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance (MLO) and that part of the process has been to hold a bunch of meetings to gather input. I recorded the first of these, which turned out to be quite interesting. The second focused on neighborhood councils and I’m working on obtaining an audio recording of it.

The third meeting focused on nonprofit organizations that lobby the City. I wasn’t able to make it, but fortunately for all of us, it was recorded by Bobby Buck, a brave citizen journalist. He posted his recording on YouTube for all to watch and listen. The main issue under discussion here is which 501(c)(3) organizations will be exempt from the registration and disclosure requirements of the MLO. Currently the law at §48.03(E) presently exempts 501(c)(3)s from the requirements if they receive:

… funding from any federal, state or local government agency for the purpose of representing the interests of indigent persons and whose primary purpose is to provide direct services to those persons, if the individual or individuals represented by the organization before any City agency provide no payment to the organization for that representation.

The Ethics Commission staff is proposing1 that this be tightened up to exempt only:

501(c)(3) organizations that receive government funding and are created primarily to provide basic life assistance to disadvantaged clients at a rate that is significantly below market (and their employees engaged in the same activity).

The meeting is more than 90 minutes of the usual bitching and moaning, and I’ll write on various episodes as I have time. Tonight’s installment concerns these comments by yet another genius, this one from the Inner City Law Center, who thinks that just because he claims to be doing good in the world no one really has the right to question anything he says or does, let alone subject his organization to any kind of registration or disclosure requirements.2 Turn the page for a transcription of some of his remarks and some commentary.
Continue reading Video Of Third Interested Persons’ Meeting Now Available, Featuring Among Other Things Some Exceptionally Whiny Non-Profits Whose Whole Argument Against Regulation Seems To Be That The Ethics Commission Is Strapping Extra Pianos To Their Back Just Like Donald Trump Does To Poor People, Conveniently Forgetting The Fact That Nonprofit Status Is A Huge Freaking Public Subsidy

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Why In The World Did City Employees Avak Sarafian And Huizar Staffer Kevin Ocubillo Attempt To Get The Historic Core BID An Illegitimate Waiver From Its Statutory And Contractual Obligation To Disclose The Profits It Made From Slavery?!

In 2003 the City of Los Angeles passed a Slavery Disclosure Ordinance,1 which, in short, requires most firms that contract with the City to disclose any profits they2 made from American slavery prior to 1865. The L.A. Times published a good contemporaneous summary of the issues, which is worth a read.

This measure was promoted by pro-reparations advocates as a (mostly) symbolic expression of the City’s opposition to slavery. It’s mostly symbolic in, first, that it only requires disclosure. In fact, the only actual tangible requirement of the law is that contractors complete a disclosure affadavit. No firms that profited from slavery are prevented from doing business with the City. Also, any number of types of firms are exempt from the law. An exhaustive list of exceptions can be found at §10.41.3.

Among these are, most crucially, financial institutions. Since banks, stockbrokers, and other such firms doing business in finance are likely either to have existed prior to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment or else to have acquired financial firms that were, and since every major business in the U.S. during slavery times made money from the stolen labor of slaves,3 this is no minor exception.

Another huge exception is that the law only applies to slavery in the United States before 1865.4 Of course, slavery in present-day Los Angeles is not only rampant, it’s not only tolerated, but is probably pretty acceptable, at least to elected City officials given the likely level of campaign contributions made by slavers. After all, it’s not poor people buying those slaves, and probably not politically uninvolved people, either. Just for instance, between them, modern-day slaveholders Ray and Ghada Irani have given more than $22,000 to various candidates.5 Given the obsessive contribution-seeking behavior of our Councilmembers, this is more than enough explanation for the narrow scope of the law.6

And finally, for whatever reason, §10.41.3(E) exempts 501(c)(3) corporations, and that brings us to this morning’s actual subject, which, believe it or not, is the Historic Core Business Improvement District.
Continue reading Why In The World Did City Employees Avak Sarafian And Huizar Staffer Kevin Ocubillo Attempt To Get The Historic Core BID An Illegitimate Waiver From Its Statutory And Contractual Obligation To Disclose The Profits It Made From Slavery?!

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