The Long Beach Ethics Commission on Wednesday discussed potentially tightening the city’s lobbying ordinance by requiring elected officials to report their contacts with lobbyists, changing who has to register as a lobbyist and adjusting how often they have to file disclosures.
The existing ordinance requires people to register as lobbyists if they cross certain thresholds for the amount of money they’re paid to represent clients or for lobbying more than 50 hours in a quarter. Powerful city employee unions, neighborhood associations, business improvement districts and nonprofits do not have to file their activities.
Earlier this year, commissioners started reviewing the 12-year-old law, which, thus far, has never been used to charge anyone with violating lobbying rules. The law has been criticized for containing loopholes and exemptions allowing some special interest groups to lobby city officials without having to document their activity. The ordinance also relies on lobbyists to self-report their activities.
That could change if commissioners continue down the path they discussed Wednesday: potentially requiring elected officials like City Council members and the mayor to document their meetings with lobbyists and advocates, something they don’t currently have to do.
“They’re the ones with the public’s trust and obligation and I want to see the obligations on them,” said Commissioner J.P. Shotwell.
Other changes could increase reporting frequency to quarterly, with some members saying the current biannual filings often lead to issues being voted on before lobbying reports are filed with the City Clerk’s office.
The commission could make formal recommendations to the City Council later this year, but it would be up to the City Council to adopt any changes to the city’s lobbying ordinance.
Wednesday’s study session by the commission signaled that it could propose some sweeping changes that would require more people to register as lobbyists or at least report their advocacy activity.
There was support for changing rules about nonprofits to require them to register their activity without having to register as a lobbyist, something that could affect their tax status with the Internal Revenue Service. Nonprofits, including those that represent business interests like the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, were exempted when Long Beach’s lobbying law was adopted in 2010.
Requiring any documents or presentations given to city officials by lobbyists or advocates to be made public could also be one of the recommended changes.
“It would be better if those documents saw the light of day prior to the decisions being made,” said Ethics Commission Chair Susan Wise.
Commissioners also showed support for changing the threshold for when a person would have to register as a lobbyist including reducing the threshold from 50 hours and potentially adding a trigger for a certain number of contacts with city officials. Changes could also require preparation time as hours that count toward the threshold.
“If you’re only including meetings and someone spends 100 hours on a report and presents it to 30 people in five minutes then they’re not a registered lobbyist,” Commissioner Barbara Pollack said of the current policy.
The commission is expected to continue its study session in the coming months before voting on a list of recommendations to be sent to the City Council for consideration.
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