Tag Archives: Lobbying

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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Experimental CPRA Request To San Francisco County Supervisor Aaron Peskin For Emails To/From Union Square BID Director Karin Flood On A Subject Found In Her Lobbying Disclosure Demonstrate The Utility Of Detailed Contact Reporting By Registered Lobbyists

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!
Continue reading Experimental CPRA Request To San Francisco County Supervisor Aaron Peskin For Emails To/From Union Square BID Director Karin Flood On A Subject Found In Her Lobbying Disclosure Demonstrate The Utility Of Detailed Contact Reporting By Registered Lobbyists

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Video Of First Interested Persons Meeting Now Available — See John Howland And Bill Delvac Discuss Whether Neighborhood Council Assent Is Necessary For Development Projects (TL,DR: Yes). This Revelation Makes BID Control Of DLANC Seem Even More Unsavory Than It Already Did

Yesterday afternoon the Ethics Commission held the first in a series of three meetings to gather even more input from interested parties concerning proposed revisions to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. I recorded the whole thing for posterity and you can watch it here:

I’ll be commenting on this and the next meeting1 from time to time, and today I just want to point out an interesting response from seasoned Los Angeles lobbyists John Howland and Bill Delvac2 to an interesting question from Ethics Commission ED Heather Holt. One of the proposals on the table is a requirement that lobbyists report attempts to influence neighborhood councils in addition to the other City agencies they’re already required to disclose information about. In the context of this discussion, Holt asked the lobbyists:

Just out of curiosity, for development projects, is there a general sense that you need a neighborhood council buy-in for it to go anywhere?

In response to this, über-düber lobbyist John Howland smirked and emitted an inarticulate snort, seemingly in disbelief that the boss of the Ethics Commission could ask such a silly question, before saying “yes.” This response was echoed by Bill Delvac, with Howland interjecting the occasional assent:

BD: We’re happy when we get to neutral.
JH: Yeah. Well, yeah.
BD:
[Unintelligible] … the Charter and the Code, they’re really not binding. But it matters more to some Councilmen [sic] than it does to others and often [unintelligible] you wanna get their support. I wouldn’t have written the Charter that way, but …

This interchange certainly supports the Ethics Commission’s proposal to subject lobbying directed at neighborhood councils to disclosure, and, interestingly, there didn’t seem to be any actual opposition to this proposal from the lobbyists. So maybe, no matter what gets compromised out of the rest of the proposals, this one will make it through the gauntlet, which is a good thing.3

And turn the page for a discussion of some potential implications, possibly as-yet unconsidered, of this proposal having to do with the fact that, probably uniquely among NCs, the DLANC has a ton of BID staffers on its board of directors.
Continue reading Video Of First Interested Persons Meeting Now Available — See John Howland And Bill Delvac Discuss Whether Neighborhood Council Assent Is Necessary For Development Projects (TL,DR: Yes). This Revelation Makes BID Control Of DLANC Seem Even More Unsavory Than It Already Did

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In Defense Of Counting Neighborhood Councils As City Agencies In The Context Of The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

As you may well know, the City Ethics Commission is in the process of revising the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The CEC’s policy staff, led by heroic and long-suffering director Arman Tarzi, has compiled a fantastically useful report on the proposals, and a series of three interested persons meetings are scheduled starting tomorrow to gather even more input.

Right now it looks like at least four of five Commissioners are leaning towards giving the lobbyists whatever random nonsense they request, so your comments and input are essential to the future of the City at this point. Whether or not you can attend any of the meetings, I hope you will be able to send comments to ethics.policy@lacity.org, probably before October 17, which is when the Commission is scheduled to discuss the matter. And I’m also writing posts on particular parts of the proposal which seem important. This one, on including neighborhood councils as City agencies for lobbying disclosure purposes, is the third in the series, and the other two are:

And read on for a description of the proposal and reasons to support it!
Continue reading In Defense Of Counting Neighborhood Councils As City Agencies In The Context Of The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

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Ethics Commission To Hold Three Meetings Starting Next Week (September 7, 9, 13) To Gather More Input On Revision Of Municipal Lobbying Ordinance — Please Come To Comment!

City Hall is always being built and rebuilt, and we might as well lend a hand. Never forget that the stone that the builder rejected is become the head of the corner!
Maybe you recall that the Policy Staff of the City Ethics Commission is in the process of proposing revisions to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The proposals were discussed at length at the Commission’s August 15 meeting and, after a bunch of self-serving and mostly mendacious public commentary from a bunch of lobbyists, the Commissioners basically, disgracefully, took the position that even though the staff had been seeking input on the proposals for 18 months, the lobbyists needed even more time to weigh in.

So in furtherance of this ridiculous but nevertheless not-to-be-ignored directive from the Commission, the Policy staff, led by the heroic and long-suffering Arman Tarzi, has scheduled three so-called interested persons meetings to gather even more input. If you were at the meeting you’ll have noticed that mostly only lobbyists commented.1 The Policy staff sent out an email tonight announcing these meetings, and here they are, along with instructions for attending:

  • Thursday, September 7, 2017. 1:30pm – 3:30pm. City Hall, Room 1060 — This meeting is for a general discussion of the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance.
  • Saturday, September 9, 2017. 9:25am – 12:00pm. (Precise time & room TBD) — This meeting is also for a general discussion of the MLO. It is being held as part of the Congress of Neighborhood Councils and it is necessary to register for it separately.
  • Wednesday, September 13, 2017. 10:00am – 12:00pm. City Hall, Room 1070. — This meeting is to focus on input from the nonprofit community.

The Policy staff request that you RSVP for any of these meetings you plan to attend at ethics.policy@lacity.org. If you can’t attend a meeting you can also email your comments to the same address.

I hope to attend the first two, and I really hope that you and/or your friends can too. These revisions of the MLO are essential for improving government transparency and accountability in the City of Los Angeles, and if we let the lobbyists obstruct or eviscerate them, we’ll all be the worse for it. Turn the page for some links to and brief discussions of some of the essential issues.
Continue reading Ethics Commission To Hold Three Meetings Starting Next Week (September 7, 9, 13) To Gather More Input On Revision Of Municipal Lobbying Ordinance — Please Come To Comment!

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In Defense Of Detailed Reporting Of Contacts Between Lobbyists And City Officials

On August 15 the City Ethics Commission met and discussed proposed changes to the Los Angeles Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The Commissioners with one notable exception were disgracefully deferential to the trumped-up concerns of a bunch of lobbyists. You can read the full set of staff recommendations as well.

I hope everyone who cares about government ethics in Los Angeles will write comments to the Commission. I’m currently working on a series of my own positions, to be compiled and submitted as public comment. This post is the second in the series, and the previous item was In Defense of a Compensation-Based Registration Threshold for Lobbyists.

Today I’m defending the proposed change to a requirement that lobbyists report individual contacts with City officials by name and title. Right now there’s a super-minimal reporting requirement which is essentially ineffectual. As always, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re not alone. Turn the page for an introduction to the issue and arguments in favor of making the change.
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Liner LLP And United DTLA Weren’t The Only Zillionaires Gunning For The Skid Row Neighborhood Council: On April 28, 2017, The Central City Association Amended Its Lobbyist Registration With The City Ethics Commission To Disclose Its Work Against The SRNC

Background: You can read my previous stories on the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort and also see Jason McGahan’s article in the Weekly and Gale Holland’s article in the Times for more mainstream perspectives.

We’ve done a lot of reporting on lobbying efforts against the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort, but until today it has focused entirely on Liner LLP, its ethics-free-zone-for-hire-in-human-form Rockard Delgadillo, and the probably illegal campaign they waged against the SRNC on behalf of their shadowy anonymous client United DTLA.

This morning, however, I discovered that that infamous Schatzian horror show, the Central City Association of Los Angeles, was also involved in the lobbying effort against the SRNC. It’s not possible from the evidence to tell when they entered the fray, but amended registration forms filed with the City Ethics Commission prove that it was no later than April 28, 2017.1 Here’s the documentary evidence, and you’ll find more detailed descriptions along with some discussion after the break:

Continue reading Liner LLP And United DTLA Weren’t The Only Zillionaires Gunning For The Skid Row Neighborhood Council: On April 28, 2017, The Central City Association Amended Its Lobbyist Registration With The City Ethics Commission To Disclose Its Work Against The SRNC

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On March 20, 2017 Fashion District BID Exec Direc Rena Leddy and CCEA Exec Direc Estela Lopez Had A Conference Call With Unregistered-As-A-Lobbyist Liner LLP Partner Rockard Delgadillo To Discuss The Skid Row Neighborhood Council

The first part of the quote in Rockard Delgadillo’s mouth is from 2006 when he was hypocritically suing Rockstar Games, makers of Grand Theft Auto, for some Easter egg porn. Now he’s producing and starring in zillionaire porn. Just goes to show… The text in the box is from a poem by Charles Bukowski.
Background: You can read my previous stories on the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort and also see Jason McGahan’s article in the Weekly and Gale Holland’s article in the Times for more mainstream perspectives.

You will certainly, if you’ve been following the issue, recall the fact that the zillionaire-sponsored effort to subvert by any means necessary the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort was in full bloom by early 2017. And the Downtown BIDs were deeply involved in the whole mishegoss. In January, Blair “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout no Brown Act compliance” Besten of the Historic Core BID, Estela Lopez of the Downtown Industrial District, and furtive hereditary downtown zillionaire Michael Delijani were meeting with their sorry little Councilboy, encouraging him to ignore both law and decency in his effort to stop the SRNC.

By March, as we’ve seen, the zillionaires had formed an anonymous Delaware LLC known as United DTLA and hired walking morality-free-zone and former Los Angeles City Attorney Rockard Delgadillo to lobby the City against the SRNC. March 20, 2017 was a milestone day in the campaign. On this day, Fashion District BID executive directrix Rena Leddy began sending out emails to the property owners in her district to rally them against the SRNC. She sent this one out at 11:44 a.m.. At 12:24 p.m. she sent this one out, complete with a copy of Rockard Delgadillo’s infamous letter to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which is the locus classicus of the arguments which ultimately prevailed over the SRNC.

Rena Leddy’s calendar entries for March 20, 2017, showing 11 a.m. conference call with Estela Lopez and Rockard Delgadillo. Click to enlarge.

And today, thanks to the fruits of a Public Records Act request for the 2017 appointment calendars of everyone in the Fashion District BID,1 I’m able to extend our knowledge of the events of that fateful day back 45 more minutes to 11 a.m. Take a look at Rena Leddy’s appointments for March 20, 2017. See that at 11 a.m. she had a conference call with Rockard Delgadillo and Estela Lopez for a “Skid Row Neighborhood Council update.” And, as we’ve seen, right after this, Rena Leddy commenced to rallying her troops against the SRNC.
Continue reading On March 20, 2017 Fashion District BID Exec Direc Rena Leddy and CCEA Exec Direc Estela Lopez Had A Conference Call With Unregistered-As-A-Lobbyist Liner LLP Partner Rockard Delgadillo To Discuss The Skid Row Neighborhood Council

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How Ethics Commission President Jessica Levinson Postponed Discussion Of Revisions To Enforcement Regulations Until April 2017 Mostly At The Behest Of Lobbying Firms And Why She Was Absolutely Right To Do So

Ethics Commission President Jessica Levinson, with whose actions we do not always agree but with whose reasoning we always do, which matters a great deal more.
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.

As one might expect, the Ethics Commission is absolutely the best of all City agencies at following this law. They keep a big plastic box at the back of the room during meetings which contains every possible piece of paper necessary for compliance. So as soon as President Levinson3 mentioned that there were written comments, and as soon as it became clear that all the Commissioners had copies, I zipped back to look in the box. How disappointing to find nothing of the sort in there! But the story has a happy ending, never fear, and turn the page to learn the details.
Continue reading How Ethics Commission President Jessica Levinson Postponed Discussion Of Revisions To Enforcement Regulations Until April 2017 Mostly At The Behest Of Lobbying Firms And Why She Was Absolutely Right To Do So

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