Santa Monica Lookout
|Santa Monica's Lobbyist Transparency Law Gets First Public Reading Tuesday|
By Hector Gonzalez
February 29, 2015 -- Twice revised, Santa Monica's new law requiring City Council members and all staff to publicly disclose their dealings with lobbyists gets a first reading at Tuesday night's meeting.
A final draft of the ordinance aimed at adding more transparency at City Hall adds three more provisions Council members wanted included when they last reviewed the proposal in December 2014. ("Santa Monica Could Require Lobbyists to Register", December 18, 2014).
In December, Mayor Tony Vazquez and Council member Sue Himmelrich asked that the ordinance require lobbyists “representing clients who seek benefits or contracts from the City to register with the City and provide other information that will help promote transparency.”
Two other council members, Pam O'Connor and Gleam Davis, asked that the ordinance go further in defining the scope of lobbying activity.
Everyone from local neighborhood representatives with issues before the council to paid lobbyists should be required to register with the City, said O’Connor.
Davis said the ordinance also should address “indirect” lobbying by those who influence the lobbyists and others who try, behind the scenes, to influence the council.
Vazquez, meanwhile, advised the City's legal staff not to rush the ordinance.
On Tuesday, Council members could, “once again, consider modifications to the proposed ordinance,” staff said in the report outlining the new ordinance.
For example, the Council could opt to raise or lower the $20 threshold on gifts, or they could ask that lobbyists be required to report individual contacts with City officials and staff.
“The proposed ordinance does not impose that requirement,” said the staff report, “partly because staff believes that officials' and staffs' disclosures will achieve the same purpose and perhaps better promote transparency.”
The draft ordinance also does not expand the definition of a lobbyist to include anyone advocating their own interests.
“Staff recommends against that approach in order to minimize First Amendment issues,” the report said.
Council members could also opt to narrow the definition of a lobbyist “in order to distinguish between lobbyists and those who are simply seeking or providing information,” by specifying that a lobbyist is anyone who “communicates with City official or staff 'primarily' for the purpose of influencing a legislative or administrative action,” said the report.
But none of these additional changes need to be acted on by the Council on Tuesday, the report said.
The new draft to be read by City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie on Tuesday defines a lobbyists as “any individual who receives economic consideration as the employee, representative or contractor of a person or entity other than the City of Santa Monica for communicating with any official or employee of the City for the purpose of influencing a legislative or administrative action.”
It requires lobbyists to register annually with the City Clerk, “no later than 10 days after qualifying as a lobbyist under this chapter, on a registration form provided by the City.”
Along with asking for basic identification and employer information, the registration form asks the lobbyist to provide “a brief description of the governmental decision that the lobbyist seeks to influence.”
The ordinance also establishes an undisclosed “lobbyist registration fee” to cover the costs of administering the ordinance.
It also provides civil penalties for failing to register or otherwise violating the new ordinance, including fines of up to $500 and six months in jail, and it gives the City the option to seek up to $10,000 in civil damages in court.
The public will get a chance to comment on the new lobbyist law at Tuesday's meeting before the Council votes on the ordinance.
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