Calling Los Angeles' 20-year-old lobbying law "weak, ineffective and out of date," Mayor Tom Bradley on Wednesday urged the City Council to approve tougher controls on City Hall lobbyists.
Bradley called for an ordinance requiring, among other things, that lobbyists disclose exactly who hires them, how much they are paid and what issues they seek to influence. Those hiring lobbyists would have to file separate reports disclosing lobbying activities in their interests.
The proposed law is patterned after the state law regulating Sacramento lobbyists and was introduced a year ago by Councilman Ernani Bernardi. It has languished in a council committee since then, but with Bradley's support, and that of City Atty. James K. Hahn, the proposal now may move toward a vote by the full council.
Bradley's announcement follows disclosures by The Times last year that many lobbyists have skirted the law, and that it has not been enforced by the city attorney.
Hahn said Wednesday that the current law's vagueness makes it difficult to enforce and that a major feature of the new ordinance would be to remove the ambiguities.
Bradley said he will ask the council to increase the staff in the city attorney's and city clerk's offices to aggressively enforce the new law.
Nearly 200 lobbyists are registered with the city, although there are many more at work at City Hall. They mostly represent developers seeking approval of multimillion-dollar projects, companies seeking city business and city employee groups trying to improve pay and working conditions.
"What we are concerned about is the public's perception," Bradley said at a City Hall news conference, at which he was joined by Bernardi and Hahn.
"You get a homeowners' group that comes down here to fight a zone change," Bradley said. "They see a lobbyist scurrying around. They immediately assume that somebody is trying to buy the vote of a council person, even though that may not be true. We want to eliminate that perception."
Although there is nothing in the proposed law to make lobbyists less visible, Bradley said that full disclosure of their activities will "restore the public's confidence in the integrity of their local government."
The proposed law would:
- Require lobbyists to identify more precisely in records open to public inspection who is paying them, how much they are being paid, and what issues they are seeking to influence. Currently, many lobbyists list as their clients their own lobbying firms--or in the case of attorney-lobbyists, their law firms--rather than parties benefiting from their services.
- Prohibit lobbyists from spending more than $25 a month per official on entertaining. Currently, there is no limit on lobbyists' expenditures. The proposed law would require lobbyists to disclose all expenditures to influence an official.
- Require lobbyists to report all contributions they make or deliver on behalf of their clients to city officials. Elected officials now must report the sources of contributions, but Bernardi contended that the reports have been made too difficult to trace.
- Require lobbyists' employers, who are not currently regulated, to report whom they hire to lobby.
Anyone breaking the law would be subject to civil and criminal misdemeanor penalties.
There is no requirement in the existing or proposed law for lobbyists to publicly identify each city official they contact.
"The state used to try that system and what happened is that every lobbyist routinely put down every member of the Legislature to make sure they didn't forget anybody," said Deputy Mayor Tom Houston, a former chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission. "You had these long, useless lists."
Former Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, who is now a lobbyist, said the existing law should be clarified, but questioned the need for tougher regulations. "I see no reason why it should be expanded to the point where people are discouraged from using a (lobbyist)," Snyder said in an interview, commenting on the proposed requirement that those who hire lobbyists file reports.
Phil Krakover, a prominent City Hall lobbyist, said in a Times interview last year that he would oppose any effort to require him to report the total amount he is paid by his clients, contending that it would weaken his competitive edge.
"That's like asking the butcher how much he pays for meat wholesale," Krakover said. He could not be reached for comment after the latest proposals for toughening the law were made known.