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.
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).
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.3
I’ll be commenting on this and the next meeting6 from time to time, and today I just want to point out an interesting response from seasoned Los Angeles lobbyists John Howland and Bill Delvac7 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.8
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 email@example.com, 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:
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.9 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can’t attend a meeting you can also email your comments to the same address.
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:
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.
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.