The Long Beach Ethics Commission said it will continue to work on its recommendations for changes to the city’s lobbying law after dozens of nonprofit, neighborhood association and business improvement district leaders turned out to its Wednesday meeting to demand their current exemption from the law remain intact.
Changes that the commission had drafted earlier this year would have tightened reporting restrictions for registered lobbyists, who already have to file their dealings with city officials in periodic disclosures, requiring more frequent reporting, more information about the discussions and potentially stiffer penalties for not complying with the law.
They also would have stripped away an exemption for nonprofits and several other groups that the City Council opted to leave out of the pool of entities that have to report when they talk to city officials when the law was adopted in 2010.
Dozens of concerned representatives of various groups who fight for tenants’ rights, work with undocumented communities in Long Beach or help keep their business improvement districts clean and activated to help stimulate neighborhood economic engines spoke to the commission about how the change would negatively affect their operations.
Heather Kern, the executive director of the Belmont Shore Business Association, told commissioners that she was a “team of one” and her daily work often requires her to talk to city officials and employees in city departments, most of which would be required to be reported under the proposed changes.
Kern said that given the number of nonprofits in the city the number of reports that could be generated for the city to review could render them ineffective.
“I don’t have a solution for you, but this is clearly not it,” Kern said, amid a backdrop of people holding red signs that said “Let people advocate” and “Keep nonprofits exempt.”
There are over 600 nonprofits with a location in Long Beach, according to Michelle Byerly, the executive director of The Nonprofit Partnership, who told the commission that its proposal to add “advocacy” to the law and treat advocates the same as lobbyists would put a great burden on nonprofits.
Nonprofits are already limited by how much of their resources they can dedicate to advocacy in order to maintain their tax-exempt status from the federal government, and they have to file public disclosures with the Internal Revenue Service and other state agencies. Byerly questioned if the commission had fully examined how this would affect nonprofits ability to operate.
“The checks and balances exist already,” she said.
The spectrum of interests represented Wednesday ranged from groups that help impoverished communities access basic resources to ordinary neighborhood groups that have pressured the city to make changes to policies regarding permanent parklets or other neighborhood safety issues.
Many agreed that the changes could lead to chilling effects with the voices of ordinary residents being filtered out of decision-making processes because of the requirement they’d have to register as lobbyists.
The commission was poised to send recommendations to the City Council for approval Wednesday but opted to continue the work of its ad-hoc committee that has been exploring changes to the lobbying law since early 2022.
“We’re not going to close this issue because I think the ad-hoc committee needs some time to absorb the public comments we’ve received and consider the appropriate approach,” Commissioner Barbara Pollack said.
Pollack said that there was already apprehension among some commissioners about how to include neighborhood associations and that in individual meetings with City Council members about the proposed changes, some said that the requirement for them to self-report their contacts with lobbyists would be challenging.
“We are concerned, obviously, about not imposing requirements that are so burdensome as to take away from other important work that our city officials and our electeds have to do,” Pollack said.
The commission’s draft of proposed changes said that requiring elected and other city officials to self-report could serve as a reference point to ensure that lobbyists were also complying with the law.
The city’s lobbying law is reliant on self-reporting, and there have been numerous allegations that not all lobbyists have logged their activities over the years. No one has been charged with a violation of the law in its roughly 13 years of existence.
It’s unclear when the issue will be back on the commission’s agenda for a possible vote to send the recommended changes to the City Council.