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Ethics Panel Will Examine Dual Roles of Lobbyists

City Hall: Commission head says the fact that some also serve as political consultants to council members is 'troubling.'

February 13, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission will examine the relationship between elected officials and City Hall lobbyists who double as political consultants for those they are seeking to influence, top panel officials said Monday.

Commission President Miriam Krinsky said a story in The Times on Sunday raised enough concerns over the perception of a conflict of interest created by the dual roles to justify a review by the panel into whether new rules are needed.

"The situation described is one that is reasonably troubling to people to the point we should look at it," said Krinsky, who is also a federal prosecutor. "There are problems worth considering. Even if it's simply appearances, that's of sufficient import for us to consider it."

Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham said she believes that the panel should examine the issues raised by lobbyists who also work as political consultants for the elected officials they lobby. The review, she said, will be part of a broader look at ways to curb undue influence by lobbyists at City Hall.

Lobbyists may legally work as paid political consultants for the City Council members they are attempting to influence on behalf of other clients. The Ethics Commission only requires disclosure of the relationships.

Two-thirds of the City Council members have, at one time or another, hired political consultants who also worked as lobbyists seeking council votes for clients.

In the ongoing battle between House of Blues and the Nederlander-Greek Corp. over control of the Greek Theatre, seven of 14 City Council members likely to vote on the matter have at some point hired as political consultants the same lobbyists whose clients are bidding on the contract.

Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, said the practice allows lobbyists special access to wield undue influence over elected officials.

Krinsky and Pelham said Monday the commission will consider whether the business relationships pose a real or perceived conflict of interest, and also will look at whether regulation is warranted.

Even the appearance of a conflict might warrant rules to avoid a perception that can be damaging to city government, officials said.

"Whether there is a perception of a conflict or a real conflict, this is important for the commission to look at because they are equally damaging," Pelham said.

There are constitutional issues that could hinder the commission from barring people from working as lobbyists and political consultants, but the panel might restrict elected officials from voting on issues involving their political consultant/lobbyist, said Barbara Freeman, a staff member of the Ethics Commission.

"It's premature to say what the solution might be," Pelham said, adding that the panel also will consider whether there should be restrictions on political fund-raising by lobbyists.

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