One of the essential items on the agenda of last Tuesday’s meeting of the City Ethics Commission was a wide-ranging set of proposals from Enforcement staff for revisions to the CEC’s enforcement regulations. These are the laws and policies which guide the enforcement process. The proposals were emailed to interested parties only a few days in advance of the meeting, evidently leaving everyone feeling kind of blindsided,1 especially because they appeared with a recommendation from staff that they be adopted right then.
So at the actual meeting, when the item came up for discussion, Commission President Jessica Levinson made fairly convincing noises to the effect that the matter should be postponed until April. More interestingly, though, she mentioned almost in passing that she’d received a number of written public comments asking the Commission to table the matter. Well, one of my favorite bits of the Brown Act, §54957.5(a), states unequivocally that:2
any … writings, when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at an open meeting of the body, are disclosable public records under the California Public Records Act … and shall be made available upon request without delay.
If you’ve read the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance of the City of Los Angeles, you will have noted that it’s a bitch to enforce. It defines a lobbyist to be someone who is compensated to influence City action on behalf of a third party for 30 or more hours in any consecutive three months, and then requires lobbyists so-defined to register with the City. Imagine trying to use CPRA and other methods available to the public to pin that beef on some BID employee… I can tell you it’s not an easy task.
You may recall that between 2008 and 2010 the CEC tried to get this unwieldy definition changed to one whose details I won’t go into here, but which would have been far easier to enforce. For whatever reason, Carol Schatz, Kerry Morrison, and a few less luminous lights of the BID world including the perennially mockable Downtown Russell Brown decided for reasons known only to them and their therapists that this was going to destroy the very foundations of Los Angeles. As is their wont, they proceeded to get really fussy and scratch at their own faces till mom made them put their mittens on soon Eric Garcetti, at that time chair of the Rules and Elections Committee, smothered the whole baby in its bed for no discernible reason other than to please his darling BID-babes Kerry and Carol.
So now the staff of the CEC, whose Executive Director is the same Heather Holt who got tarred, feathered, and mocked by Garcetti over this very same issue in 2010, has prepared a new proposed revision of the definition of lobbyist. The Commissioners will be discussing it at their upcoming meeting on August 9, 2016. The new proposal owes some debts to the last proposal, but its central point is quite different. It’s a change to a compensation-based rather than a time-based definition, which is fairly standard around the rest of the country:
We recommend returning to a compensation-based definition and that “lobbyist” be defined as an individual who is entitled to receive $2,000 or more in a calendar year for attempting to influence a City matter on behalf of another person. The attempt to influence would include a direct communication with a City official or employee, and compensation could be either monetary or non-monetary.