Political Law Issues Raised by Recent Los Angeles City Hall Prosecutions

Though the federal indictment against former Los Angeles City Councilperson Mitch Englander and the plea agreements of fundraiser Justin Kim and lobbyist George Chiang allege criminal activities, including official governmental action in exchange for political contributions, trips, and cash payments, the prosecutions should serve as a reminder to lobbyists, political consultants, City contractors and others involved in local politics about the importance of complying with gift, lobbying, and other ethics laws.  Even those who are attempting to comply with the law and do not have “corrupt intent” could become embroiled in an investigation because of errors or oversights.

References in the federal criminal documents to gift, lobbying, and ethics laws signal that law enforcement agencies are well aware of local rules and filing requirements.  The Englander indictment notes that he under-reported “gifts” from a local contractor on his annual Statement of Economic Interests (Form 700); the Kim guilty plea discusses the proper reporting of contributions to PACs; and the Chiang guilty plea implies that he should have registered as a City lobbyist, and notes that the revolving door rules prevented former City employee Ray Chan from lobbying for one year after leaving the Mayor’s office.

Los Angeles’ gift, lobbying and ethics laws are far too extensive to summarize in this Alert, but the recent City Hall prosecutions serve as a reminder of the following legal requirements:

*    Taking a City official or employee out to lunch or buying him or her drinks constitutes the making of a “gift” subject to strict limits and reporting requirements, and may be prohibited if done by a registered lobbyist, prospective City contractor, or person otherwise doing business with the City.

*    “Favors” done for City officials or employees may constitute reportable or illegal gifts, even if in the form of intangible or volunteer services.

*    Registered lobbyists must list all City agencies and Council offices which they contact on their quarterly lobbying reports.

*    “Permit expediters” may have to register and file lobbying reports with the City Ethics Commission.

*    The RFP process typically prohibits bidders from interacting directly with City Commissioners about a possible City contract.

Put another way, even if you are not making a contribution to a PAC or giving Dodgers tickets to a City Council’s aide as a “quid pro quo” for support for your project or City contract, you still might be triggering various laws and reporting requirements, the violation of which can lead to dire consequences.

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     Feel free to contact a Sutton Law Firm attorney or Political Compliance Specialist if you have any questions regarding reports, questionnaires, or any other political or election law concerns, especially with regard to the stay-at-home order.