The Long Beach Ethics Commission is asking for the public’s help crafting disclosure rules about lobbyists’ and nonprofits’ meetings with public officials.
The commission is working on changes to the city’s lobbying ordinance, which has been criticized as so weak that it’s never actually been enforced.
Anyone interested in voicing their opinions will have two options: an online survey or a public meeting.
The meeting is at the Bob Foster Civic Chambers on Oct. 25 at 5:30 p.m. Commissioners pushed for an evening meeting—they typically meet at 3 p.m.—and a venue that could allow for both in-person and virtual participation.
The survey, which is expected to be distributed next week, will allow people who can’t attend, to give their opinion in advance of the meeting.
The survey approved by the commission is 11 questions long and starts with a basic question: Do you think that information about communications between city officials and organizations should be made available to the public?
From there, respondents can choose what types of things should be disclosed (homelessness, cannabis, business licenses, land use), which communications should be disclosed (paid lobbyists, nonprofit representatives, labor unions not representing city employees) and who should have to file the reports.
The commission has wrestled with the latter issue in previous months with some commissioners saying the City Council and other city officials should be responsible for disclosing those contacts and others saying it may be too much of a burden.
The current lobbyist law requires registered lobbyists to disclose contacts with city officials in semi-annual filings. The commission is also debating whether it should recommend that those filings be made more frequent in the future.
Long Beach’s lobbyist law has been in effect since 2010 but it has yet to result in anyone being fined or charged with violating it. The dependence on self-reporting, the lack of detail required to be disclosed and the frequency of how often reports are issued have all been criticized as ineffective at promoting transparency.
The commission has been working for over a year to draft changes to the city’s law, but it hit a snag when nonprofit leaders denounced a proposed change that would have required them to report their contacts with city officials.
Since then, the commission has indicated it will remove neighborhood associations from a list of groups that might have to report contacts with city officials. It also has increased the threshold for how big a nonprofit would have to be before being subject to the law, raising the mark from an operating budget of $50,000 annually to $2 million.