Tag Archives: Serena Oberstein

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 Commission Veep Serena Oberstein Announces That She Is Very Excited To Have Found A Way To Evade The Public Records Act While Claiming That She’s Evading It “In The Spirit Of Transparency Which The Ethics Commission Represents.”

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission held its December meeting this morning, and I recorded the whole thing1 and you can watch it either on YouTube or else on Archive.Org. Of course the main event was the last two items to be discussed regarding proposed updates to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, and I’ll have something to say about that whole mishegaas later in the week I hope. And there was also an instance of silence speaking louder than words, as the Commission completely ignored my recent request that they consider adopting a disclosure rule for ex parte contacts between Commissioners and those who would influence them.

Such contacts, of course, are a serious problem with our Ethics Commissioners, not least Serena Oberstein, the lobbyists’ best friend, who was involved in a minor yet horrifying interlude at this morning’s meeting which is the subject of tonight’s rant. The issue was whether and how the Ethics Commission’s investigators should disclose to the targets of their investigations that the investigations have become inactive.

This came up at the October meeting, and you can watch the whole episode here if you’re interested. The short version is that the investigators presently do not inform investigative targets when they’ve stopped investigating due to confidentiality mandated by the City Charter. Commissioner Serena Oberstein is deeply concerned that all these targets are going to be unsettled and anxious by not knowing that they’re not being actively investigated and she wanted staff to issue closure letters.

Such letters turned out not to be legally or politically possible, but at today’s meeting Sergio Perez, Director of Investigations, presented this proposal, adopted unanimously by the Commission, which recommended that policy be changed to allow oral notice to those being investigated that their investigations had become inactive. This recommendation putatively avoids the confidentiality requirement by invoking LAAC §24.29(c)(2), which states that:
Continue reading Ethics Commission Veep Serena Oberstein Announces That She Is Very Excited To Have Found A Way To Evade The Public Records Act While Claiming That She’s Evading It “In The Spirit Of Transparency Which The Ethics Commission Represents.”

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Open Letter To The Los Angeles Ethics Commission Asking Them To Consider Adopting A Policy On Disclosure Of Ex Parte Communications

I reported last week that Serena Oberstein, Vice President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, had engaged in undisclosed ex parte communications with a couple of (unregistered) lobbyists regarding a proposal to revise the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. Of course, at present, there’s no requirement for any City commissioners, except Harbor Commissioners, to disclose such communication.

However, the example of the Board of Harbor Commissioners shows that it is possible for City commissions to adopt more stringent requirements than the rest of City government is subject to. Given the role of the Ethics Commission in defending the public interest in transparency and disclosure, it seems like a natural candidate for such a policy.

Hence, as promised, I’ve written a letter to the Commission asking them to put an item on the agenda for December 19 asking the staff to draft a policy proposal for such a requirement. Here’s a copy of the letter, and you can read a transcription after the break. If you’re moved to write about this yourself, you can, as far as I know, send communications to the Commission at ethics.commission@lacity.org.
Continue reading Open Letter To The Los Angeles Ethics Commission Asking Them To Consider Adopting A Policy On Disclosure Of Ex Parte Communications

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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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In Defense Of A Change To A Compensation-Based Threshold For Lobbying Registration In Los Angeles

I wrote yesterday about a troubling meeting of the Ethics Commission concerning revisions to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The proposals are still very much in flux, and timely public comments are not only essential for swaying the wavering commissioners in the right direction, but the commissioners, no matter their other flaws, do seem to read them, so they’re likely to be effective if submitted over the next couple of months.1

I had planned to write a letter to the Commission about all the issues together and publish it here as well, but the more I think about it the more I have to say. Thus I thought it would be much easier for everyone if I wrote about one issue at a time and then edited the posts down into a single letter to the Commission. Also, maybe you’ll find some of my ideas useful in framing your own letters, which should be sent to ethics.policy@lacity.org.

This post, then, is the first installment of that project, and the subject is the proposed change from a time-based registration requirement to a compensation-based requirement. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re surely not alone. Turn the page for an introduction to the issue and arguments in favor of making the change.
Continue reading In Defense Of A Change To A Compensation-Based Threshold For Lobbying Registration In Los Angeles

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In A Disgraceful Display Of Regulatory Capture, Ethics Commissioners (Except For Andrea Ordin) Drink Lobbyist Kool-Aid With Respect To Lobbying Ordinance Revision, Direct Staff To Acknowledge Even More Bullshit Pissing And Moaning From Lobbyists, And Gleefully Betray Their Duties To The People Of Los Angeles

A couple weeks ago I wrote about proposed changes to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, which were on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the Ethics Commission. The proposed revisions would essentially require more detailed, much quicker disclosure of lobbyists’ projects and clarify precisely who is required to register. Well, the meeting happened. First there was a ton of public comment from lobbyists, all of it the familiar bitching and moaning that the power elite of Los Angeles will typically spew forth when they feel that their power is threatened in any way.

Next there was a series of embarrassing PDAs between Commissioners and lobbyists about how wrong it is to burden the “regulated community”1 with any oversight at all and how, despite all evidence to the contrary, lobbyists actually want to follow the laws. The Commissioners, that is, apart from Andrea Ordin who, alone among her colleagues, seems to remember why we have a lobbying ordinance in this City, basically took the position that if the lobbyists in attendance were upset by the proposed revisions then there was something wrong with the proposals.

Subsequently, the Commissioners asked Director of Policy Arman Tarzi a series of questions displaying their embarrassing ignorance of how lobbying actually works in this City, and finally Commission President Jessica Levinson directed the staff to solicit even more input from lobbyists on how they want to be regulated. This despite the fact that the revision process has already been going on for a year and a freaking half already. Anyway, I taped the whole 90 minutes of discussion, and you can watch it here:

  • Part one — About an hour’s worth of mostly mendacious public comment from lobbyists followed by the beginning of the interrogation of the long-suffering, saintly, heroic Arman Tarzi by Commissioners who, mostly, don’t even seem to have read the material they’re deliberating on, or not to have comprehended it if they did read it.
  • Part two — Ethics Commissioners falling over themselves to state how great lobbyists are and quizzing the staff about matters that, as commissioners, they ought already to understand.

If you’re wondering how important this issue is, just think back to the recent episode of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council formation effort. There we saw massive illegal lobbying efforts directed at successfully employed to convince Jose Huizar to subvert the subdivision election on behalf of anonymous clients who paid more than $45,000 for this service and whose identities, despite the requirements of the MLO, are still unknown to the public. It’s quite plausible that a more timely disclosure of this information would have changed the outcome of the election.

And turn the page for a detailed discussion of the some problems with the proposed revisions that the Commissioners purported to find. As you consider the Commissioners’ cataclysmic failure to regulate lobbying in Los Angeles, keep in mind that it’s people like the residents of Skid Row that they’re failing to protect.
Continue reading In A Disgraceful Display Of Regulatory Capture, Ethics Commissioners (Except For Andrea Ordin) Drink Lobbyist Kool-Aid With Respect To Lobbying Ordinance Revision, Direct Staff To Acknowledge Even More Bullshit Pissing And Moaning From Lobbyists, And Gleefully Betray Their Duties To The People Of Los Angeles

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