This will be a hollow reform as long as it only applies to registered lobbyists who play by the rules and fully disclose their financial compensation, and leaves unregulated those unregistered lobbyists who don’t disclose at all.
The City of L.A. Ethics Commission’s Web site (ethics.lacity.org) lists a who’s who of influential business leaders who represent developers, city vendors, commercial property owners and others. The rules are that “any individual who directly communicates with a city official for the purpose of influencing ‘municipal legislation’ (as defined in the ordinance) and who receives $4,000 in compensation in a calendar quarter” is required to register as a lobbyist.
But many of the city’s most influential lobbyists are not registered. Why? Before we call the new ethics rules fair, that’s what we would like to know.
Los Angeles’ reputation as one of America’s most pro-labor cities has been strengthened in recent years by its adoption of living wage ordinances and generous contracts to city workers represented by public employee unions. There is no way that labor would have won these concessions without lobbying. Despite this, the fact of the matter is that just a single union in all of L.A. is registered to lobby.
On its face, one must question whether this is illegal.
But beyond that, it is simply unfair. Why? Because by not registering as lobbyists, powerful labor leaders are eligible to serve on city commissions and influence the decision-making processes. Unregistered lobbyists who serve as city commissioners have significant advantages over registered lobbyists.
Besides getting free and preferential parking at city hall, they also have passes to go behind the council horseshoe at council meetings and speak freely with public officials away from the ears of the public and the media.
This practice must stop. It should be disconcerting to all Angelinos to see some of the city’s most influential opinion leaders regularly going past the guards and accessing city council members at will. Unless they are discussing the weather, these unregistered influence-peddlers should have to disclose what they are lobbying on, just as we do.
Many of the individuals I am talking about represent organizations that spent more than $3.5 million in independent expenditures on various mayoral candidates. With the exception of some apartment owners and affluent individuals, virtually all of the independent campaign expenditures were done by public employee unions, the ones that represent city employees and always manage to get pay raises, even when our cash-strapped city cannot afford to hire new police and firefighters.
Now look at the list of registered lobbyists. Not a single one represents a union. In fact, the only union that filed a report last quarter was the airport police, who were fighting a plan to bring them under the command of the LAPD.
This shows that not only does labor invest a lot of money in city elections, but it apparently does not think the city’s ethics rules apply to it.
It is ironic that the city council has passed these ethics “reforms” that will prohibit lobbyists from raising money and being appointed to commissions when, under their very noses, there are influential activists who are paid to fight for city employees but have not bothered to register.
More stringent proposals have been made to ban corporate contributions or those from developers and business interests. What about labor unions?
Some columnists have written that business has bought city hall. With L.A.’s business climate so noncompetitive, that notion is laughable. But what about labor unions?
I am not saying that labor unions are to blame for the small number of people or organizations that may be unduly influencing the public process with their contributions. What I am saying is that influence at city hall is not primarily coming from business.
The developers and business owners being blamed for the city’s problems are getting a raw deal and are being unduly criticized. The city council needs to take a second look and make ethics rules fair.
Everyone who lobbies the city council should register, so that we can all see who is doing the influencing-and what for. That is the only way to ensure fairness and open disclosure.Rusty Hammer is president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
The L.A. Area Chamber, which has nearly 1,400 members, represents the interests of business in L.A. County. Founded in 1888, the chamber promotes a prosperous economy and quality of life in the Los Angeles region.