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Reforms on Influence of Lobbyists OKd

Council members will be banned from voting on measures linked to large campaign donors.

January 29, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to prohibit elected city officials from acting on issues involving lobbyists who worked on their elections or who have raised large amounts of money for their campaigns. The council balked, however, at extending the rules to ballot measure committees and charities supported by officials.

In response to the city Ethics Commission's conclusion that the reforms would help blunt the impact that lobbyist fund-raising and other political activity have on decision-making at City Hall, the council asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance to accomplish the rule changes.

"These reforms are designed to promote a system of decision-making that is not -- and is not perceived to be -- distorted by contributions, fund-raising activities, or other financial relationships that exist between private interests and elected officials," said LeeAnn Pelham, executive director of the Ethics Commission.

The commission proposed the reforms in early 2001, after The Times reported that two-thirds of the City Council members at that time had hired political consultants who doubled as lobbyists.

Those same lobbyists later sought to influence the council on various matters. There are 180 lobbyists registered at City Hall.

Under the ordinance backed by the council Tuesday, members would be barred from acting on a proposal involving any lobbyist who had contributed $7,000 to the candidate or who had raised $10,000 for that candidate.

Originally, the Ethics Commission recommended recusal in cases where lobbyists raised or contributed $1,000, but the council imposed the higher threshold.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said the new rules will address the public perception that lobbyists rule City Hall.

"There are undue influences," Greuel said. "What we are trying to do is close some of those loopholes so that people don't say to us, 'We know that lobbyists have more influence on you than we do as constituents.' "

Councilman Eric Garcetti said he supported the new rules "to cut that link, and we have to be honest ... that it does exist, that we vote on things that also affect the livelihood of people who give us donations."

The vote for the new rules was 9 to 3, with council members Ruth Galanter, Ed Reyes and Nate Holden in opposition.

"We spend more time, not less time, thinking about raising money, and I don't think that helps the public process at all," Galanter said. "I think it is bad to force officeholders to pay more attention to how much anybody who walks in the door raised to support them."

Holden said some who supported the changes took money from lobbyists to fight San Fernando Valley secession, "and now they are holier than thou."

The package was endorsed, however, by more than a dozen people who testified Tuesday, among them representatives of California Common Cause.

"I have so much trouble registering young people to vote because they think City Hall is run by lobbyists," said Joan Leonard, an activist from Sherman Oaks.

The council sent back to committee a proposal to require elected officials to avoid acting on issues involving lobbyists who contribute to ballot measure committees controlled by the officials and in cases where lobbyists contributed more than $20,000 in a year to a charity at the elected official's request.

Similar proposals spent 13 months in the council's Rules and Elections Committee before the panel recommended they not be adopted.

Councilmen Alex Padilla and Ed Reyes said the limits on lobbyist contributions to charities could put a crimp in efforts by elected officials to raise money for worthy nonprofit causes.

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