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Ethics Panel Moves to Tighten Rules on Lobbyist Ties

City Hall: Commission says elected officials should not vote on matters advocated by their own consultants.

July 27, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing concerns about undue influence at City Hall, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission on Thursday recommended that elected officials be barred from acting on issues involving lobbyists who have doubled as their campaign consultants or fund-raisers in the previous year.

The action follows a February story in The Times that described how two-thirds of the Los Angeles City Council members hired political consultants who later returned to City Hall to lobby on behalf of businesses and other clients.

"There are valid reasons to try to limit [lobbyists'] ability to gain access through these kinds of financial relationships," said Ethics Commission President Miriam Krinsky. "This is a measured and deliberate approach to address those concerns."

The panel also endorsed two other actions Thursday in an effort to prevent political professionals from exerting undue influence over matters pending before the council. One action would require lobbyists to disclose details of their fund-raising on behalf of elected officials.

The other proposed reform would prohibit elected officials from acting on issues involving lobbyists who have donated to nonprofit organizations at the officials' behest. That action was in response to a controversy involving Councilman Nick Pacheco, who asked lobbyists to contribute thousands of dollars to a nonprofit group that he set up shortly after his election.

"These are very minimal disclosure requirements to try to gain information that, frankly, the public does have a right to know about and that will seek to assure the process is free of financial and monetary influences," said Krinsky, a federal prosecutor.

Despite objections by Commissioner Dale Bonner, the panel voted to direct the city attorney to draft the new rules into an ordinance. The measure will return to the commission next month for a final sign-off before it is sent to the City Council for action.

Some city officials predict the rules will face a tough fight in the council, since they would limit council members' political activities.

Bonner said the requirement for elected officials to recuse themselves creates an unreasonable burden--tracking both those who raise money for them and those who have matters pending for votes.

"You are going to fuel the perception that people are on the take, because people are going to trip over this rule all the time," Bonner said.

Commission Vice President Richard Walch said the additional disclosure rules do serve a public purpose. "It's a good thing for us to do," he said. "I don't see this as overly burdensome."

City Hall lobbyist Steve Afriat said he supports additional disclosure but added that it is unreasonable to require elected officials who hire him for fund-raising or as a campaign consultant to recuse themselves from any action involving his lobbying clients.

"The result will be lobbyists will stop running campaigns," Afriat said, predicting he would have to let some of his employees go if that happened.

He also said the new rules might discourage lobbyists from raising money for committees that benefit the public. He cited a committee formed by former Councilman Mike Hernandez to raise money for a park bond measure.

Krinsky noted that the new disclosure and recusal rules apply only when a lobbyist has raised more than $1,000 for an elected official or has been paid that amount for political consulting.

Also Krinsky said, an elected official can always return the contributions to once again become eligible to vote on a particular matter.

Those who testified Thursday in favor of the new rules including former City Councilman Marvin Braude.

"When these lobbyists are involved with campaign contributions of significance, it weighs heavily on the [council members], less so on the people who have strong character and background, but many of them do not," he said.

"I served on the council for 32 years," Braude added, "and in my view, this kind of reform is the most important issue the city is involved in."

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