In my previous op-ed, I talked about the need for campaign finance and ethics reform, but this week I want to focus on the last piece of the ethics puzzle: Lobbying reform.
Lobbyists are individuals who are paid to advocate for a particular governmental decision. Every interest group has lobbyists. Whether it’s nurses, firefighters, teachers, construction workers, individual companies or nonprofit groups, lobbyists can serve an important function by informing government officials about the effects of their decisions. Even cities like West Hollywood hire lobbyists to interact with the state legislature and the MTA for increased affordable housing funding and more mass transit.
Problems with lobbyists occur when they are permitted to operate in secret. West Hollywood has no lobbying disclosure laws, and because of the lack of information regarding lobbying activities there can sometimes be the appearance of “buying votes.” As I talked about last week, even the appearance of malfeasance can be as bad as actual wrongdoing; it plants the seeds of mistrust in our minds.
Just as with campaign finance reforms, lobbying reforms should focus specifically on increasing transparency, the first step of which is disclosure.
Currently, lobbyists in West Hollywood are required to register, but they are not required to submit public disclosure statements that contain useful information about who is paying them, how much they are being paid, what specific matters they are lobbying and who they are lobbying. As I proposed in my piece on campaign finance reform, public disclosure has to be a key part of lobbying reform. The city of Los Angeles requires reporting of lobbying activities quarterly. West Hollywood must adopt similar standards, and the information should be available on a real-time, searchable electronic database. Lobbyists need to be mandated to publicly disclose their professional and financial relationships with sitting Council members before they can speak on behalf of an issue to the Council.
The new City Council must make passing a comprehensive lobbying ordinance, along with campaign finance and governmental ethics ordinances, a top priority. If we work together to pass these new laws, we can take the first steps in restoring the public trust in West Hollywood City Hall.