Friday, July 27, 2001
Ethics Panel Again Comes Up Short on Lobbying-Donor Limits
By a MetNews Staff Writer
After months of discussions on whether to restrict political contributions from lobbyists, the city Ethics Commission inched closer to action yesterday but still fell short of sending any proposals to the City Council.
Instead of approving final language, the panel adopted working language that would require city elected officials to recuse themselves from voting on matters on which they were lobbied by people or firms in the lobbying business if the official took $1,000 or more from that lobbyist sometime in the previous year.
The working language would also require lobbyists to disclose their contributions to elected officials if they also gave money or conducted various fund-raising activities for the official.
Contributions from city contractors or those seeking city contracts also would be subject to further disclosure and would require recusal.
The commission slated a meeting for Aug. 7 for what members appeared to agree would be a final vote on sending the matter to the council.
Panel members spent about two hours wordsmithing on a proposal prepared by their staff, but opted against a vote to approve after objections were raised by member Dale Bonner. Bonner said it was unwise to send a proposal to the City Council based on wording that members were seeing in front of them for the first time.
But the objection reflected a deeper split on the issue that has pit the commission majority against Bonner and professional lobbyists and fund raisers. Bonner has repeatedly chafed at tightening restrictions on lobbyist-donors absent data showing that office-holders are swayed by any special access that such dual-purpose professionals enjoy.
The commission staff has sought comments and testimony on the topic from current and previous office-holders. But the only response came from ex-councilman Marvin Braude, who asserted that he was never swayed by such pitches, but urged the commission to act to curtail “special interests.”
Arguing before the commission on the other side of the matter was Steve Afriat, a lobbyist who also runs campaigns fund-raising events—and did all three activities for Braude.
At last month’s commission session, then-Councilman Mike Feuer urged the panel to ban political contributions from lobbyists altogether. Simple disclosure is meaningless, he argued, since voters just don’t care about the data.
Under current law, all lobbyists must report their income from clients who hire them to lobby city officials, and all candidates and elected officeholders must report donations of $100 or more from all contributors, including lobbyists.
The commission’s latest focus on curbing dual lobbyist-donor activities was sparked by a February article in the Los Angeles Times, which spotlighted the dual roles played by Afriat and others.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company