On Friday the City Ethics Commission released a list of proposed updates to the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. This is scheduled for discussion at the Commission’s upcoming August 15 meeting. These are extraordinarily far-reaching and much welcome proposals, and you’ll find a list with commentary after the break. Just for instance, though, they’re proposing to alter the definition of a lobbyist to make it easier to decide when they’re required to register, to require disclosure of specific City employees lobbied, to require disclosure of positions taken on lobbied issues, and so on.
First though, let me just outline the slightly unusual procedure by which government ethics laws are changed in the City of Los Angeles. Unlike most laws, which are proposed, amended, and passed or defeated by the City Council, ethics laws are proposed by the Ethics Commission. Once the Commission finalizes its proposal, it’s sent to the City Council, which has the right to adopt the proposal or reject the proposal, but they are specifically forbidden from altering the proposal.
Of course, something like this complex procedure is necessary, because it wouldn’t be safe to allow the City Council, the main agency reined in by ethics laws, to rewrite them on their own initiative. They’d very soon be meaningless. However, it seems to make the laws extraordinarily difficult to change in substantive ways. For instance, the Ethics Commission sent up a set of proposals fairly similar to the current set in 2010.
At that time Eric Garcetti was chair of the Rules and Elections committee, where the proposal went first. At the behest of Kerry Morrison, Estela Lopez, and a bunch of other BID staffers, in the midst of a stomach-turning display of flirtatious trivialization, he let the proposal die in committee without even a second hearing. You can read all about this disgraceful episode and even listen to audio of the giggly horribleness of it all. There’s every chance that something very similar will happen this time around. But maybe not, who can say.
List of proposed changes to the MLO (selections):
- Defining “lobbyist” as an individual who becomes entitled to receive $5,000 or more in a calendar year and has at least one direct communication with a City employee for the purpose of attempting to influence a City matter on behalf of another person. — This would be huge. Currently a “lobbyist” is someone who’s paid for at least 30 hours of lobbying activity over 3 consecutive months and has at least one direct communication. This is immensely difficult to prove. Just for instance, if this had been in force last year it would have made the process of reporting Tara Devine for unregistered lobbying immensely easier.
- Including neighborhood councils in the definition of “City agency” — This also seems important, but I’m not sure what the intended effect is. Many lobbyists already disclose when they lobby Neighborhood Councils. Perhaps there are a bunch that don’t?
- Requiring lobbyists to disclose prior City service, if any. — This is quite exciting. Currently tons of lobbyists come straight out of City positions. They’re constrained by the Revolving Door ordinance from lobbying on issues they worked on when employed by the City and from lobbying their old agencies for a year, but this restriction seems to be widely ignored. A change like this would both make it easier to catch bad guys and also probably deter bad guys from being so openly bad.
- Adding disclosure of the position title, division, and agency of each City employee contacted during the reporting period. — Again, this would be world-altering. Currently lobbyists disclose agencies lobbied in the most useless, vague, general way possible. E.g. “City Council” is a typical disclosure. What is anyone supposed to learn from that? If this change is made it will make it very very much easier to track the activities of lobbyists using the Public Records Act. Something like this proposal was exceedingly controversial in 2010 and probably led to the disgraceful undoing of that proposal. I won’t be surprised if this brings down the proposal again this time around. It may be that something like this can only be put in place by initiative rather than expecting the City Council to do the right thing.
- Adding disclosure of the position a lobbying entity took on each City matter it lobbied. — Again, this is huge. Currently lobbyists disclose issues in a very vague way, like e.g. “Koreatown” is a typical example. If they’re required to disclose the positions they’re lobbying for, the issue descriptions will have to be at least comprehensible.
As I said, these will be discussed at the August 15 meeting of the Ethics Commission. It’s at 9:30 a.m. in City Hall, room 1060. Maybe I’ll see you there?!
Image of Kerry and Eric is ©2017 MichaelKohlhaas.Org. It’s loosely based on this picture of Kerry Morrison and Eric Garcetti in 2008 sitting far too close together for the taste of anyone sane.