April 17, 2017

SMCLC Objects to City's Weakening of Lobbying Ordinance and Including Resident Group Activists as "Lobbyists"

TO: City Council

SMCLC Comments on 4.18.17 Council Agenda Item 7.A re Lobbying Ordinance

The Inclusion of Neighborhood Groups is Wrong and Shows Serious Misunderstandings

SMCLC strongly opposes the proposal in the staff report to the extent that it calls for a regulation that volunteers active in neighborhood and other resident groups be required to register as lobbyists if they engage in something called “continual, generic lobbying.”

The Lobbying Ordinance is limited to PAID lobbyists. Santa Monica’s neighborhood groups are made up of volunteers. Yet, the staff report specifically recommends the registration of persons from neighborhood groups (and apparently other all-volunteer community groups) under the Lobbying Ordinance, affirmatively stating that the purpose of the proposed regulations is to:

“Address continual, generic lobbying such as that done by neighborhood groups or the Chamber of Commerce.”

We are now told, not by a change to this wording, but in the press quoting unnamed “City officials” and by word of mouth, that this is not an attempt to force volunteers to register as lobbyists, only those who are paid to lobby. That’s good. But it doesn’t answer why neighborhood groups are specifically mentioned. What PAID lobbying is “continually” on-going by them (and it is plural in the staff report— “neighborhood groups”)?

At a minimum, the language in the staff report is confusing and also evinces a serious misconception of resident groups, like neighborhood groups and SMCLC, for example, which are volunteer groups who give their time because we care about Santa Monica, our home. Staff apparently consulted lobbyists on the proposed changes to the Ordinance, but not the rest of us, both to check out their (mis)conceptions before staff included their recommendations, and to learn what our experience has been so far. This preferential treatment is troublesome.

Unfortunately, despite revising the agenda, the staff report with these inapt recommendations has not been revised. If they are meant to apply to volunteers, it would be an attempt to stifle free speech and citizen participation in community groups. This would be a very disturbing, highly divisive and anti-progressive proposal.

Other Proposals to Weaken the Lobbying Ordinance Should be Rejected

SMCLC also opposes the automatic exclusion from the Ordinance of lobbying by owners or partners of a developer or contractor (thus excluding a number of key developer lobbyists) and paid lobbyists for unions. Developers and City unions are the subjects of increased public interest and concern over their influence. No reason is provided for these exclusions which would weaken the Ordinance, not clarify or strengthen it.

We also oppose the apparent limiting of those who would be the subject of lobbying, by including only staff who must file an unrelated Statement of Economic Interest. Again, no reason is provided, nor does the report state who would be eliminated or added by this change.

We do not understand how these proposals that would weaken the Lobbying Ordinance accomplish the goals as attributed to our City Clerk in the Lookout News: "The overall goal was to do a clean-up and use best practices to better execute" the Ordinance.

How these are best practices remains unexplored, unexplained and unsubstantiated.