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Ethics Commission Revives Lobbying Ban

The city panel resurrects a 7-year-old proposal that would bar political appointees from lobbying City Hall on behalf of clients.

June 11, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission moved Tuesday to resurrect a 7-year-old proposal that would bar L.A. political appointees from lobbying City Hall on behalf of paying clients.

Ethics Commission President Miriam Krinsky said the panel stands by its 1996 recommendation to bar such lobbying activity, and she directed the panel's staff to revive the proposal, which has been sitting dormant in a City Council committee ever since.

"It's something this commission thought was important way back when. It wouldn't be a bad thing to try to remind the council it has yet to be acted on," Krinsky said during a commission meeting.

The Times reported last month that Central Area Planning Commissioner Allan Abshez had lobbied the city Planning Commission and the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission on behalf of a paid client to support expansion of a Westwood cemetery.

A city ethics law prohibits officials from working as contract lobbyists for one year after leaving office. But the law does not cover area planning commissioners' actions while they still are employed by the city, and the city attorney's office ruled that Abshez's lobbying was legal.

Ethics Commissioner Gil Garcetti said Tuesday that the issue should be addressed.

"I'm concerned both with the actual and potential conflict and the appearance of conflict," said Garcetti, a former district attorney.

The Ethics Commission recommended in 1996 that city commissioners and board members be prohibited from communicating with city officials for the purpose of influencing action on municipal legislation on behalf of another person. The ordinance was forwarded to the City Council but never scheduled for action.

City Council President Alex Padilla said Tuesday he is willing to put the proposal before council members for consideration.

"I think there is some merit to it based on the concern about the perception of dual roles being played by certain very active members in Los Angeles civic and political circles," Padilla said.

Padilla was not in office when the matter was first considered in 1996 and did not know why it was delayed, but Ethics Commission officials told the panel that it is not uncommon for a measure to become stalled in a committee when council members don't support it.

The Ethics Commission also learned Tuesday that a separate measure to restrict lobbyists at City Hall has hit a snag.

The commission proposed recently that the mayor recuse himself from acting on any matter involving a lobbyist who he had employed or who had helped him with significant fund-raising. But George Kieffer and Erwin Chemerinsky, lawyers who served five years ago as chairmen of two charter reform commissions in Los Angeles, have raised objections to the plan.

In a letter last week to the City Council, Kieffer and Chemerinsky said sidelining the mayor would cause an unreasonable shift of power from the city's executive to its legislative branch, upsetting the checks and balances built into the City Charter.

Under the proposed rule, the mayor would not be allowed to sign or veto an ordinance if he faced a conflict of interest involving a lobbyist, so a committee of City Council members known as the Board of Referred Powers would act in his stead.

The ethics ordinance may also be unlawful, Kieffer and Chemerinsky argued, because it would give three council members acting as the majority of the Board of Referred Powers the authority to veto an action by the majority of the council.

Mayor James K. Hahn shares the concern of the former charter reform leaders, an aide told the Ethics Commission Tuesday.

LeeAnn Pelham, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said she has asked the city attorney's office for a legal opinion on the issue, and commissioners said there may be alternatives, including a requirement that the mayor only disclose his relationship with lobbyists.

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