Loophole for lobbyists

first_imgOpponents argued in writing that the measure would weaken city ethics laws and “hide lobbyists from public view until after they win favors for a client.” Jeff Jacobberger, who co-chaired the campaign against Measure R, said opponents tried to warn voters that fundraising would persist, but the issue was overshadowed by the measure’s term-limit extension. “Nobody picked it up,” Jacobberger said. “Our material raised the point why it wasn’t real reform. The real problem wasn’t the $1,000 check from the lobbyist, but the $50,000 they could bundle.” Several prominent city lobbyists said council members or their staffers routinely ask them to hold fundraisers. Harvey Englander, president of the Los Angeles Lobbyists and Public Affairs Association, said the practice is widespread. “We do that regularly in our office. The law allows it,” Englander said. Jim Sutton, the San Francisco-based attorney for the association, said lobbyists have a constitutional right to solicit campaign contributions. “That’s not a loophole,” he said. “It’s called the First Amendment.” Sutton argued that lobbyists’ fundraising produces only a fraction of all political money and should not be singled out for exclusion. Sutton said L.A. lobbyists instead need clarification from the Ethics Commission on how to comply with a three-year-old law that requires them to report fundraising. Last year, Englander and Associates felt it had to report $75,000 raised for Councilman Tom LaBonge at a July 18 event, although the firm, one of several hosts, raised just a fraction of the total. “That’s a great example of a problem with the law,” Englander said. LaBonge said he received less than $4,000 from lobbyists’ participation in the event. Ethics filings show an additional $7,326 for him from other lobbyists’ fundraising last year. LaBonge said he gets about 15 percent of his contributions from lobbyists and has never directly asked a lobbyist to raise money on his behalf. Ethics records show the highest lobbyist fundraising at $71,950 last year for Councilman Jose Huizar. Next came $54,959 for Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and $43,167 for Councilman Greig Smith. Lobbyist fundraising for council President Eric Garcetti totaled $38,250, with $34,025 for Councilman Ed Reyes. Only Councilmen Zine, Herb Wesson and Bill Rosendahl reported no lobbyist fundraising last year. Skirting obstacles Councilwoman Jan Perry, with $16,250 in reported lobbyist fundraising, said she would support a ban if it included independent expenditure campaigns. “If you prohibit raising money in regular campaigns, they’ll run over to independent expenditures. They can hide better over there,” she said. Perry said she recently has not called lobbyists to raise funds. “It’s easier not to, because of questions like this.” Joe Cerrell, the dean of City Hall’s lobbying corps, said elected officials often contact him directly about fundraising or have a staff person or consultant broach the issue. “There are a lot of ways to skin the cat.” Lobbyist Steve Afriat said he typically gets two or three calls a month on the issue. “There’s re-election campaigns and officeholder accounts, and in October the window opens for 2009,” he said. “Therein lies the problem. “All that `political reform’ has done is put all the discussion about fundraising underground. They don’t stop the practice; they create obstacle courses. We and the council are very skilled runners of obstacle courses. If you want to stop the practice, … don’t make it an obstacle course, make it a brick wall.” Jerry Neuman, a lobbyist with the law firm Allen, Matkins, Leck, Gamble & Mallory, held a campaign fundraiser earlier this month for Greuel. While Neuman didn’t write a check, several of his clients who attended the event did. Neuman, long a Greuel supporter, said he couldn’t remember whether the councilwoman’s office asked for the fundraiser or he volunteered. Greuel said she wasn’t sure who initiated the fundraiser. Neuman said he’s probably doing less fundraising right now because he has received fewer requests from candidates. But Neuman said lobbyists who host fundraisers play on a level field with other interest groups. “The issues often are what drive elections,” he said. Ultimately, Ethics Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham said the matter must be considered. “It’s a question for the commission to look at, whether it’s a loophole or not,” she said. “If lobbyists feel pressure to contribute, we’re interested in hearing about that.” beth.barrett@dailynews.com (818) 713-3731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “That has to be addressed and resolved. When this was proposed to the voters, the idea was to take lobbyists out of the equation,” said Councilman Dennis Zine, who supported Measure R but was among only three council members with no reported lobbyist fundraising last year. The ballot argument supporting Measure R said it would “restrict lobbyists from making campaign contributions, gifts and becoming commissioners.” Proponents wrote that it would create “tough new ethics reforms and term limits that will make city government more honest, effective and accountable to voters … (and) reduce the power and influence of special interests and their paid lobbyists.” Issue overlooked Liza White, president of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, said the measure, which it sponsored, was designed to lessen lobbyists’ influence and that the fundraising issue was simply overlooked. “We didn’t think about it,” she said. “We didn’t address those issues. They just didn’t come up.” Four months after Los Angeles voters approved a measure to limit lobbyists’ influence at City Hall, political donations continue to pour in through a loophole that allows lobbyists to organize fundraising events. Measure R, the November ballot issue that gave City Council members an extra four years in office, was billed as a tough crackdown on lobbyists’ conduct. But it did not close the loophole used to funnel nearly $1 million to elected officials and candidates in the past three years, including $400,000 in 2006, according to city records. The measure bans direct contributions and gifts from lobbyists beginning this year, but it allows elected officials and candidates to ask lobbyists to hold fundraisers for them. “The whole thing was a sham. I just didn’t realize it was that much of a sham,” said Ethics Commission Vice President Bill Boyarsky, a retired journalist. He had previously criticized the measure, saying it would weaken ethics rules, but the loophole on fundraising events escaped his attention. Today, the Ethics Commission begins its first comprehensive review of city lobbying laws in nearly two decades amid growing awareness that financial clout of special interests and lobbyists remains unfettered. last_img