Most respondents to a city survey about proposed changes to Long Beach’s lobbying rules said city officials should have to proactively disclose meetings with lobbyists—something they’re not currently required to do. And those disclosures, respondents said, should be more frequent and robust than the law currently requires.
The Long Beach Ethics Commission asked for the feedback as they’re crafting changes to the city’s lobbying disclosure law. Commissioners have been working on the project for over a year. A new draft of the changes could be out as soon as November.
Long Beach’s current law requires paid lobbyists to register with the city and file reports about their meetings with city officials, but that system has met with criticism as too little too late. Lobbyists are only required to disclose the general topics they discussed, and reports are only mandated twice a year.
In the survey circulated before the Ethics Commission’s meeting Wednesday, respondents overwhelmingly said they want more transparency.
Of the 222 responses to the survey, 177 said city officials themselves should be required to disclose who contacts them. The next most popular answers for who should be required to disclose were lobbyists (141), labor unions (117) and industry trade associations or chambers of commerce (109).
When it came to what groups should be subject to having their meetings disclosed to the public, paid lobbyists (182) led the way followed by labor unions (153), and industry trade associations (149).
Whether nonprofits and neighborhood groups should be subject to lobbying rules has been a topic of intense debate.
Commissioners released a draft of potential changes earlier this year that would have included them in disclosure rules, but that touched off a swift rebuke from dozens of nonprofit leaders and neighborhood associations.
Nonprofit leaders have said they should remain exempt from the city’s lobbyist law because they already file reports with the federal government to maintain their tax status and because their advocacy is not profit-driven. Requiring them to dedicate more resources to filing reports with the city, something they say they can’t financially afford, could create a chilling effect, they’ve said.
Just 35% of survey respondents thought nonprofits should be required to report their meetings with public officials, according to the report.
Ranking high among the things respondents said should be disclosed were discussions about land use and zoning (174), housing and rent control (166), tax proposals (166) and conversations about the city’s annual budget (165).
When asked how often this information should be disclosed, 83 respondents said monthly and 66 said quarterly. Currently, the City Clerk’s office publishes bi-annual reports for lobbying activity in the city, and some commissioners said earlier this year that the schedule probably doesn’t provide adequate time for the public to know who was meeting with whom before a vote takes place.
Most respondents said the topic of the conversation should be included in those reports (165) as well as the lobbyist’s position on the topic (153), when the conversation happened (148) and include any materials like presentations (135).
“The more transparent, the better,” one person wrote. “The more information we all have, the more informed our opinions and decisions will be.”
Commission Chair Margo Morales said she and her colleagues would take the survey results with a grain of salt, noting that there “were some issues.” Because the survey was anonymous it could have allowed for people to submit more than one entry, and a city staff report said that 11 responses looked to have been submitted by the same person.
The commission is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 8 before finalizing another draft for a potential vote. Once the commission forwards recommendations to the City Council, that body would have the ability to tweak the proposal before approving it.