The fifth time is evidently a charm. Though the City Ethics Commission has sent four proposed City lobbying law updates to the City Council over the last 15 years, each of those proposals died a slow death. Although the latest proposal seemed to be headed for the same fate, the results of last November’s Council elections changed the political equation. The newly-configured Council established an ad hoc committee – Councilpersons
Blumenfield, Harris-Dawson, Hernandez, Hutt, Krekorian, Park and Raman – to review and revise the Commission’s proposal and plans to meet at the end of the month to review draft ordinance language and forward it to the full Council.
Another reason this latest proposal is moving toward adoption is because Commission staff gave up on two provisions which had elicited the most opposition from the regulated community: requiring lobbyists to list on their quarterly reports every e-mail, text message, telephone call and letter with every City employee and official, and requiring reports to be filed every two months instead of quarterly.
The only significant provision in this latest proposal is that it lowers the registration threshold for businesses and trade associations’ in-house lobbyists to earning just $5,000 in a calendar year for City lobbying. I.e., if the percentage of an employee’s salary relating to City lobbying reaches $5,000 over the course of the year, that entity and the employee will have to register and file quarterly reports.
For example, a trade association’s government affairs employee who earns $75,000 a year will qualify as a City lobbyist if he or she spends even 6.66 percent of his or her time – or just an average of 2.66 hours per week or just 1-½ days per month – talking to City officials or employees about City ordinances or contracts, networking with community groups about how to pass an ordinance, reviewing proposed legislative language, etc.
And a real estate entity’s project manager who earns $200,000 a year will qualify as a City lobbyist for spending only 2.5 percent of his or her time – or an average of just 1 hour per week or just ½ a day per month – working on City approval for a project. This new qualification threshold, if passed by Council, will mean that dozens – or perhaps hundreds – of businesses and trade associations will now have to register and file quarterly reports for the first time.
In our opinion, the biggest shortcoming of the proposal is that neither Commission staff nor the ad hoc Council committee has taken the time or effort to eliminate duplicative or unnecessary reporting requirements, even though the Los Angeles Lobbyist Association and some nonprofits urged them to do so. I.e., the quarterly forms are just as long and complicated as they have always been, and still contain numerous unnecessary questions.
Remarkably, the ad hoc committee – clearly getting “lobbied” behind the scenes by certain special interests – has proposed drastically reducing reporting requirements for labor unions and 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Although this exemption has not yet appeared on paper, it would mean that union representatives and 501(c)(3) employees would not have to disclose the percentage of their salaries relating to City lobbying, fundraising for City candidates, or charitable donations made at the request of a City official. We believe that imposing such different reporting obligations on labor unions and 501(c)(3)s, as opposed to others, would raise serious Constitutional concerns – because it is not a “content-neutral” restriction and effectively favors two special interests over others – and neither the state nor any local jurisdiction in California allows unions and nonprofits to file such reduced reporting.
We expect the full Council to approve this new lobbying law next month, with the lower registration threshold for in-house lobbyists taking effect 30 days later.
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Feel free to contact a Sutton Law Firm attorney or Political Compliance Specialist with any questions about this new expected City lobbying law, or if you would like a more detailed summary.
THIS ALERT IS INTENDED FOR GENERAL INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.
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