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A proposal for lobbyists to wear badges at City Hall to identify them by profession is unnecessary.

September 03, 2008

Let's play "bell the lobbyist." Grab the next one who comes by and put a bell on his lapel so we'll know whenever he's near. This should be easier than it was in the story about the mouse that wanted to bell the cat because, after all, a lobbyist can't claw us and devour us while we're attaching the jingle. Or can he? Maybe we should think this through.

More to the point, maybe the City Ethics Commission staff should think through its proposal to require lobbyists to wear special badges whenever they enter city buildings. Now, some lobbyists have protested that any such requirement would smack of Nazi Germany, where Jews were forced to wear yellow stars, as Times staff writer David Zahniser reported Sunday. That's a little over the top; no one is recommending lobbyist genocide. But requiring a special marking is over the top too.

The city has had mixed success in getting lobbyists to publicly reveal that they are being paid by interests that want to land lucrative city contracts or win some other decision that will benefit them. Sometimes voters make matters worse, as they did in passing Measure R in 2006. The ballot measure that purported to enhance ethics in city government in fact may have made it easier for some lobbyists to avoid registering.

But the solution lies with smarter rule-making and more vigorous enforcement, not with a program to tag people by category when they enter City Hall just to make it easier for elected officials to identify -- and then court or avoid -- people they run into at work. Should each union member be branded with a scarlet U? Should each contractor be required to wear green?

There's already too much of that at City Hall. Just to get into that most public of buildings -- where people exercise their constitutional rights to assemble, speak and petition their government -- citizens are required to wear stickers that say "visitor" to let elected officials, staffers and security guards know that there are strangers in their midst. No such indignity is required in any courthouse, any Los Angeles County building or the state Capitol.

It may be fun to imagine belling, or earmarking, or paintballing lobbyists, but they are people just like everyone else and should be treated the same -- unless they break the rules. Then they should be penalized. And, perhaps, be required to wear funny hats.

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