First of all recall that the City Ethics Commission is undertaking a proposal to revise the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. It seems that they’re required to do this kind of thing on a regular basis by §702(f) of the City Charter. The current law has a complex and practically unenforceable definition of what professional lobbying is and part of the CEC staff’s current proposal is to define it in a way so that people can understand whether or not they’re subject to it. This is a good quality in laws.
And who is Commissioner Ana Dahan? Well, she’s a law student at Loyola and she works for some outfit called NBCUniversal in some unit called “Legal & Government Affairs.” It’s not so easy to discover the responsibilities of that unit, but there are some clues in this biography of Steven Nissen, the “Senior VP of Legal & Government Affairs at NBCUniversal”:
… he is primarily responsible for developing and coordinating for the company a comprehensive state and local government agenda, including anti-piracy, intellectual property protection, tax, digital, broadcast, film production, land use and government compliance.
In other words, one of her bosses oversees NBCUniversal’s lobbying activities. He’s even the immediate past chair of L.A. lobbying behemoth the Central City Association of Los Angeles. The man is deeply involved in local lobbying.
And not only that, but her boss’s boss is Mitch Rose, described by The Hill as NBC’s “top lobbyist.” So that pretty much explains what “Legal & Government Affairs” means at NBCUniversal. It means lobbying.
And they do a lot of lobbying right here in the City of Los Angeles. I can’t figure out how to link through to searches on the Ethics Commission’s website, but you can search here with NBC entered in the “Client” field1 to see that Dahan’s employer currently employs four distinct lobbying firms to lobby the City of Los Angeles:
This really seems like a conflict of interest, n’est-ce pas? Her employer employs a bunch of high-powered lobbyists. She works in the very department that controls her employer’s lobbying activities. And also it’s her job as Commissioner to oversee the regulation of these lobbyists. Sure, she can recuse herself if those lobbyists get busted by her staff, but what about other lobbyists who get busted for the same kind of shenanigans that her boss’s lobbyists didn’t get busted for yet? How’s she going to maintain an impartial attitude towards them? It’s not even implausible that this would happen. Just last year, NBCUniversal was one of the media firms sued by Google for their “shadowy harmonized efforts” lobbying discredited Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. Something similar could just as easily happen in L.A.
And even if she can maintain an impartial attitude, how’s she going to present the appearance of an impartial attitude? E.g. if she helps change the lobbying laws and it somehow thwarts her boss’s lobbyists and they say something to the boss like “Gosh, we really could have gotten your covert special interests taken care of except for that pesky law that Commissioner Dahan voted for…”? Then what? Or if she helps change the lobbying laws in ways that turns out to be useful to her boss’s lobbyists? Then what?
Anyway, it turns out that the fact that her employer employs lobbyists does not technically present a legal problem for her with respect to her position as an Ethics Commissioner. According to the City Charter at §700(d)(5) the only pertinent restriction is that
…neither a member of the commission nor its Executive Director shall…employ or be employed as a person required to register as a lobbyist with the City of Los Angeles.
This obviously doesn’t apply to Dahan, although it does probably apply to her bosses.2 So she serves as an Ethics Commissioner while employed by people who, themselves, are at least arguably legally forbidden from serving as Ethics Commissioners, which makes her situation seems shady.
And given her shady-seeming situation, it also seems shady when she argues that (a) City officials don’t understand things they vote on and (b) lobbyists seem to be the only source of accurate information so (c) lobbying laws mustn’t be so scary that City officials end up having to vote on stuff they don’t understand without the benefit of being lobbied. This is such a silly argument, what with two world-class universities3 right here in our City just chock-full of experts on every possible subject who don’t have a client’s axe to grind when they’re talking to City officials about stuff. It’s so silly that it’s hard not to wonder if she’s making it in her employer’s interest.4
Heck, as Eric Garcetti, who appointed Dahan to the Commission, and everyone else in his clica tecnocratica keep reminding us, we are a world-class City. One imagines the leaders of a world-class City just, I don’t know, hiring some experts to tell them about stuff that they don’t understand but have to vote on anyway? There’s money for that in Council District budgets even. Not only is there no reason for City officials to wallow in their ignorance5 but there’s no reason for them to sit around wallowing until some friendly lobbyists who are experts in whatever areas their clients are paying them to be experts in show up and share whatever part of their expertise that their clients are paying them to share.
And there’s really really no reason for a sitting Ethics Commissioner to base any kind of decision about the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance on this imaginary idea that somehow without lobbyists the City government would be too lost and confused to function. Especially a sitting Ethics Commissioner whose employer pays four different elite lobbying firms just to lobby the City of Los Angeles, or to “provide expertise” to our ignorant elected officials, as it were. Super-especially a sitting Ethics Commissioner who works in the very department that coordinates her employer’s lobbying efforts. But evidently that’s not stopping her, eh?
Transcript of Ana Dahan’s remarks:
I do appreciate your explanation on the hours versus the two thousand. I think that’s a really valid point that it makes it easier to comply. I’m still not a hundred percent sold on the two thousand part just because I think there’s a big difference in, you know, giving money to get somebody elected is different to me than that lobbying I think of that most people do, and having been involved or, you know, working one elected official and then also working at a nonprofit trying to advocate for an issue. Just two thousand dollars is not [unintelligible] And I just think that’s a really really low threshold, and I think that…I understand the purpose of lobbying and I think that we want transparency but I think that there’s a lot of advocacy work that gets done that I know counts as lobbying but really it’s like informing our elected officials. Unfortunately our elected officials have to make a lot of decisions on information that they don’t have an expertise on, and sometimes it is through lobbying that they get accurate information and that’s…that’s just sadly I think the reality of how decision-making happens, and so I just want to make sure that we don’t limit expertise from getting to our elected officials when they’re making decisions and I do want there to be transparency but I just don’t want it to be so overwhelming or scary that people who would otherwise have engaged in a conversation just don’t because it seems too burdensome
Image of Ethics Commissioner Ana Dahan is a public records and it came from here.
- “NBCUniversal” will only yield three hits due to one entry as “NBC Universal.”
- At least to Nissen, who’s an executive officer of a lobbying firm registered in the City of Los Angeles.
- One slightly less world-class than the other but in the interest of harmony I’m not going to say which one that is.
- I guess a counterargument would be that it’s too silly for it to be genuinely in anyone’s interest.
- Unless they like it, or even more plausible, find ignorance to be the most politically expedient state of mind.