Thursday, August 9, 2001
Package of Reforms to Restrict Lobbyists Moves to Council for Action
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A package of reforms intended to limit the influence of lobbyists who also run campaigns or do business with elected officials was sent to the City Council yesterday, as the Ethics Commission rejected a bid for another month of review.
On a 3-1 vote, the panel approved proposals to amend the city’s lobbying ordinance by requiring that officials recuse themselves from actions on which they are being lobbied if they took $1,000 or more from that lobbyist sometime in the previous year. Contributions from city contractors or those seeking city contracts also would require recusal, as would free services provided by lawyer-lobbyists or other professionals.
Also affected would be donations to charity, political organizations or other groups, made by lobbyists at the behest of elected officials.
City Council members who might otherwise face recusal could vote on the matters if they returned the donations—a fact that critics say could spur officials to take donations, return them months later when they face a vote, then again take donations from the same lobbyists afterwards.
The proposals appear on their face to respond directly to headlines over the past several months. For example, political consultants like Steve Afriat and James Acevedo who also have lobbied the council on behalf of clients or sought city contracts sparked a call for reforms in the midst of the last election. Attorney-lobbyist Neil Papiano was fined by the commission last year for free services his law firm provided to Councilman Hal Bernson. And Councilman Nick Pacheco has acknowledged that he is being investigated by law enforcement authorities on allegations that he told lobbyists that he would deal with them only if they donate to a community group that he helped create.
But the Ethics Commission has been mulling new restrictions on lobbyists for the last two years.
The latest round of discussions began earlier this year and have been marked by a split between the commission majority and the panel’s newest member, former state corporations commissioner Dale Bonner.
The rift reached a new level of animosity yesterday as the panel rejected Bonner’s plea for another month to come up with alternatives.
“I just got here,” Bonner told his colleagues. “I don’t understand why I shouldn’t be afforded the professional courtesy of a little more time....I do take it as almost a personal affront to say, ‘fine, we’ve heard you, but let’s move forward.’”
Pressed for examples of the type of alternatives he would suggest of permitted an extra month, Bonner said he would like the panel to consider an “ethics grade” for officials based on their enforcement records, and a more user-friendly presentation of information of the commission’s website, among other things.
Bonner also asserted that a failure by the commission to take a comprehensive approach to reforms has led to a system that has worked poorly, and was an example of why Mayor James Hahn recently vetoed a commission-generated measure to reform campaign laws.
“Look what happened to our matching fund discussion,” Bonner said. “The mayor has clearly drawn a line in the sand and said he’s not going to consider that incremental approach.”
Commission President Miriam Krinsky told Bonner that sending the matter to the council was no impediment to later adopting the types of reforms he was considering. She also noted that the commission already delayed the vote twice, most recently at Bonner’s request.
“It’s irresponsible for us to continue to delay when we’ve crafted what we believe to be reasonable solutions,” Krinsky said.
The proposals now move to the City Council, which may adopt, reject, or modify them. Quick council action is seen as unlikely, given Hahn’s recent veto and an agreement by the commission and council leaders to schedule discussions on ethics reforms in the fall or early winter.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company