Recent Fines by City Ethics Commission Should Be Wake up Call to City Lobbyists
Fines levied this week by the City Ethics Commission against three lobbying entities highlight the Commission’s new emphasis on enforcing the City’s lobbying law – and should serve as a reminder to all organizations involved in City Hall matters to take seriously all reporting requirements, gift limits and other legal restrictions.
In the past, the Commission targeted registered lobbyist entities which failed to file one or more quarterly reports or whose reports omitted important information – i.e., “low hanging fruit.” However, these recent enforcement matters go further, and indicate that the Commission is willing to spend more time and resources on reporting and gift violations. For example, the Commission has apparently begun comparing reports filed by lobbying firms with the reports filed by their clients to ensure both list the same matters lobbied and fees paid. These recent matters also reveal that the Commission wants to pursue more aggressive fines even for seemingly minor violations. In fact, recent fines, much higher than in the past, totaled over $10,000 in each matter.
Given the Commission’s aggressive enforcement practices, now is the time for all lobbying entities to make certain that their compliance systems are in order. Not only do you want to avoid being dinged for inadvertent mistakes on your reports, but you also want to be able to demonstrate good faith efforts to comply with the law should the Commission pursue an enforcement action against you.
A proper lobbying compliance system should include:
- back-up documentation for every piece of information in every lobbying report, including invoices sent to clients, copies of Council meeting agendas, copies of draft ordinances, emails with City officials, etc.;
- correspondence between lobbying firms and their clients confirming fees paid and matters lobbied during the quarter;
- questionnaires or email correspondence showing that you timely asked all applicable personnel whether they took a City employee to lunch, made a charitable donation at the request of a City official, raised money for City candidates, etc.;
- questionnaires or email correspondence demonstrating that clients are monitoring their employees’ contacts with City officials and time spent lobbying to track whether the employee qualifies as a City lobbyist; and
- a “point person” within your organization to pre-clear inviting City officials to events, hosting fundraising events, etc., perhaps with the assistance of outside counsel.
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Please contact a Sutton Law Firm attorney or Political Compliance Specialist if you would like assistance setting up a lobbying or gift law compliance system in the City of Los Angeles or any other jurisdiction.
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THIS ALERT IS INTENDED FOR GENERAL INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.
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The Sutton Law Firm specializes in political and election law, representing businesses, individuals, candidates, ballot measures, PACs and nonprofit organizations involved in the political and legislative processes on the state, local and national levels. The firm offers its clients a full range of legal, reporting and litigation services.