MOORLACH UPDATE — Lobbyist Ordinance — November 23, 2010

A fun day.  It started with dueling chainsaws at 5 a.m. (but I’ll leave the details for another time).  At 7:30 a.m., I was the keynote speaker for the 29th Annual Irvine Exchange Club Thanksgiving Prayer Breakfast.  At 9:30 a.m., the County started its Board meeting, which concluded at around 4 p.m.  A fun day, indeed.

The first piece is today’s lead editorial in the OC Register.  The second lobbyist ordinance proposed two weeks ago was too light.  This week’s was better.  After a lengthy discussion, the Board directed the CEO and County Counsel draft a fourth version that will address the concerns raised in the editorial and during the Board meeting.

The second piece, on the same topic, is from the Voice of OC.

Editorial: Keep any lobbyist ordinance clear, simple

Some people find offensive the idea that someone invisible to the public is paid to persuade elected officials to vote a particular way. That probably explains the angst surrounding a recently failed proposal before the Orange County Board of Supervisors to register lobbyists in the county. Tuesday, the board was to consider a new lobbying registration ordinance.

Supervisor Bill Campbell introduced Nov. 8 an ordinance to register and post in a database the names of those trying to influence the county on behalf of business or others. The measure lost on a 3-2 vote with supervisors Pat Bates, John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson opposed, and Board chair Janet Nguyen joining Mr. Campbell in support. Opponents’ concerns included that the definition of lobbyist was not clear, that many interest groups (specifically, public employee unions, according to Ms. Bates and Mr. Nelson) would be exempt and that such a policy perhaps was unnecessary.

The proposal grew from an Orange County grand jury report that suggested there was a "shadow government" of lobbyists and estimated that about 25 people or organizations lobby county officials. The grand jury called for an expansive new protocol for lobbyists, including registration fees, mandatory reporting, rules, fines and penalties. At the state level lobbyists are required to register, take an ethics test and submit a photo, which is posted.

Today, Supervisors Nelson and Bates will present an updated ordinance that attempts to more clearly define lobbyist and make a registration process simpler. Mr. Nelson said he was "not completely convinced that lobbying reform was necessary" but if it is the will of the public and the board then we should "address the activity," not simply the periphery.

Some are concerned that the new proposal goes too far. Lucy Dunn, CEO of the Orange County Business Council, says the revised ordinance expands the definition of lobbyist so much so that it is probably "unenforceable and unconstitutional."

"There is no transparency when everyone is included," she says, "because you don’t even know who the real lobbyists are. This isn’t lobbyist registration, this is citizen registration."

Unfortunately, it is important to remember the reason the lobbyist class has expanded: With government inserting itself into so much human activity, businesses, organizations and individuals often have so much to gain or lose from the stroke of a public official’s pen, that they believe it is essential to have professional representation to make their case to government.

Any lobbyist ordinance should be simple, straightforward and based on disclosure, instead of new rules. Lobbyists should be defined as persons or organizations paid to advocate on behalf of another person or organization, including public employee unions, to effect a legislative or procedural outcome. Those individuals should file regular disclosures posted on an online public database.

Lobbyist Registration II on Supervisors’ Agenda

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Orange County Supervisors John Moorlach, left, and Pat Bates. (Photo by: Violeta Vaqueiro)

Orange County Supervisors Pat Bates and Shawn Nelson have teamed up to introduce a new version a controversial measure requiring lobbyists to register with the county so the public can know who is influencing votes on contracts and other public policy issues.

The ordinance was submitted on Friday to the county clerk of the board and will be ready for debate this Tuesday. Two weeks ago, Supervisor Bill Campbell proposed a lobbying ordinance that was voted down by Nelson, Bates and John Moorlach.

Under the proposed ordinance, anyone who lobbies to influence the county board on behalf of someone else will need to register publicly once a year.

This is one of two items for Tuesday’s meeting that seeks to shed some light on how supervisors are lobbied. County Supervisor Bill Campbell has also introduced a policy change that would establish rules for email and text communications when supervisors are on the dais during weekly meetings.

Earlier this year, a county grand jury criticized supervisors for not requiring basic registration requirements for lobbyists, similar to practices in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

In addition, former state Sen. Joe Dunn (also chairman of the board for Voice of OC) and the Orange County Employees Association advocated for a lobbyist registration. Both have issued comments indicating that a ballot measure or other type of action is likely if the Board of Supervisors doesn’t establish a lobbying ordinance of its own.

Bates said after the vote two weeks ago that she received plenty of feedback from the public insisting on some sort of sunshine on lobbying. The former community activist in Laguna Niguel said that resonated with her.

"We are responding to what is a public need based on the grand jury," Bates said. "When you put it out there for public consumption, people will say, Why don’t we have" a lobbyist ordinance? She said: "People think you’re hiding something."

That bothered her, she said.

Bates and Nelson said they agreed to work together following the vote and have now fashioned the new ordinance. Yet both still say that a new ordinance is overkill given that the county already has a gift ban and a tough campaign finance ordinance on the books.

"This county has a really open door," Bates said. "We know who’s fighting with who."

Others do not agree. Unions, open government activists and the grand jury see a shadow government that is constantly influencing votes where millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.

But despite proposing the ordinance, Bates, who has been an elected official at just about every level in Orange County, said that she views lobbyists as an important part of the process because they are able to articulate issues in front of elected officials quickly and effectively.

"To me, it’s a healthy part of our democracy that we have this back and forth," she said.

— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

November 24

2005

In his “Politics Aside” column, former Daily Pilot editor S. J. Cahn, continued a long-time Thanksgiving tradition of “Thanks for being around.”  Thanking community leaders by name was a tradition that Bill Lobdell started.  It was nice to be included once again.

With that, allow me to thank you for being in my life and for reading the Updates when you can.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

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