Wednesday, June 20, 2001
Ethics Panel Moves Toward Restrictions on Lobbyist Donations
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The city Ethics Commission took a step yesterday toward restricting lobbyists’ ability to donate to candidates for city office, but not before sharp differences on the topic surfaced among public speakers and on the five-member board itself.
On a 4-1 vote, the commission instructed its staff to draft measures to require elected officials to recuse themselves from voting on matters in which they have business or fund-raising relationships with lobbyists, and to bar lobbyists outright from raising money for candidates for city office.
Outgoing Councilman Mike Feuer urged the commission to go beyond simply enhancing mandates that lobbyists publicly report their fund raising for elected officials.
Disclosure, Feuer argued, “is almost meaningless in city politics these days because nobody cares.”
He cited polling done by his own recent unsuccessful campaign for city attorney that showed voters believed he, and not his opponent, took the most money from lobbyists. In fact, Feuer said, he has never taken money from lobbyists for city campaigns; incoming City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo did accept such funds.
“Any of you who pretends that disclosure is the answer doesn’t really understand how politics in Los Angeles works,” Feuer said.
Attorney Jim Sutton of the Mill Valley firm of Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor countered that the commission had failed to establish that lobbyist payments to candidates was in any way a problem.
There are “no examples, zero, none, of lobbyist contributions changing a decision” by any elected official, Sutton asserted.
For several months, the commission has debated the issue of lobbyist contributions and fund raising for city candidates. The commission in the past has sought unsuccesssfully to limit lobbyist contributions to the officeholder accounts of incumbest, in order to address concerns that elected officials may open their doors more freely to people who have given them money—and perhaps allow themselves to be swayed on key decisions as well.
Feuer and others have argued that the playing field must be leveled so that the average constituent has the same access to a decision-maker as someone who has raised or donated a lot of money.
Commissioner Dale Bonner questioned the goal of “leveling the playing field,” saying that eliminating the disparity between lobbyist donors and others will simply expose an endless line of further disparities, such as those between rich and poor constituents.
Bonner urged that the commission first canvass elected officials to determine whether they believe lobbyist-donors exert undue influence.
Commission members agreed to seek input, but they also—except for Bonner—voted to proceed with drafting restrictions.
The panel is slated to met again in July 26—and may have a slightly different composition. The term of Monsignor Terrance Fleming, who was appointed by City Attorney James Hahn expires June 30, and the slot is to be filled by the new city attorney—Delgadillo.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company