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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

City Considers Loosening Lobbyist Rules -- Good Government Types Not Amused

Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 11:59 AM

click to enlarge et_money_2006_6_30_129.jpg
With the eyes of every reporter and politico on today's budget-cutting Board of Supervisors meeting, the city's Ethics Commission will open discussion this afternoon on myriad changes to the city's lobbyist ordinance, including whether to do away with rules preventing consultants from accepting pay from a third party to lobby the city officials who employ them.

In a nutshell, the city's rules currently state that consultants hired by city officials are not allowed to accept pay from some other person or entity to lobby the city official. Or, in legalese:

(a) PROHIBITION. No campaign consultant, individual who

has an ownership interest in the campaign consultant, or an employee of the

campaign consultant shall communicate with any officer of the City and County

who is a current or former client of the campaign consultant on behalf of

another person or entity (other than the City and County) in exchange for

economic consideration for the purpose of influencing local legislative or

administrative action. 

That paragraph has been crossed out in the text the Ethics Commission is now considering -- and deputy executive director Mabel Ng confirmed the body is pondering doing away with it.

She denied that this was something lobbyists had lobbied for -- though they would be the obvious beneficiaries. Instead, she claimed, it all fits into a pattern of  "providing greater emphasis on disclosure rather than prohibitions."

Ng added that the current prohibition may violate lobbyists' First Amendment rights  --  though again denied that pressure had been applied from lobbyists to emphasize this point.

In another nutshell, allow all sorts of contact and money to exchange hands, insist on strict reporting, and rely upon government watchdogs and the media to raise a hue and cry when necessary.

Good-government types contacted by SF Weekly were extremely dubious that this was a good idea -- or even workable.

Charles Marsteller, the former San Francisco head of California Common Cause, blasted the potential move as a manipulative consultants' dream come true.

"Once you cut back on prohibitions and rely on disclosure only, you end up with [lobbyists] spending all of their energies to try and avoid disclosure," he said. "Not only do they come up with arcane legal rationales, they out-and-out evade or file amendments stating they forgot to note $700,000 in expenditures -- and then we levy a $1,500 fine. That's the game they play.

"If you lift the ban, [lobbying of city officials] will occur. And lobbyists will have economic benefit," continued Marsteller.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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