Tuesday, November 9, 2010 | Orange County supervisors on Tuesday voted to remain the state’s only large county without any kind of registration requirements for lobbyists.
The board rejected a plan, proposed by Supervisor Bill Campbell, to establish basic registration requirements for lobbyists who influence county leaders and issues. The plan would have been much less stringent than those in neighboring San Diego and Los Angeles counties.
Under the ordinance proposed by Campbell, lobbyists would have to register on a quarterly basis. It would define a lobbyist as anyone who receives more than $1,000 a month for influencing officials.
In a June report, an Orange County grand jury identified about two-dozen people who fit this bill, calling them a “shadow government.”
In voting down the ordinance, the 3-2 majority essentially argued that such a registration isn’t needed in Orange County because it doesn’t see the kind of political corruption that affects neighboring Los Angeles.
“I’m still trying to figure out what we’re trying to fix,” said Supervisor John Moorlach, who introduced the motion to reject the ordinance.
Campbell, who voted with Supervisor Janet Nguyen for the ordinance, said it was based on the state’s ordinance and is a reasonable compromise with supporters of more stringent standards.
Former state Sen. Joe Dunn, who earlier this year publicly asked the board to take up the ordinance, said he was surprised and disappointed by its action.
“We gave the supervisors the opportunity to do the right thing on their own,” said Dunn, who is chairman of the Voice of OC board. “Sadly, they didn’t. In 2012, Orange County voters will impose a lobbying ordinance far more onerous than the one the supervisors shelved today.”
Dunn, however, said he does not know at this time whether he will play a role in such a measure.
Lucy Dunn, president and chief executive of the Orange County Business Council, told supervisors that Campbell tapped her to work with the business community and lobbyists to gather input. And she didn’t mince words about what her organization thought.
“We hate it. But we could live with it,” Dunn said.
Supervisor Pat Bates argued that the problem with establishing any kind of registration requirements is how to make them even-handed and truly transparent instead of just window dressing.
Bates and other supervisors questioned aloud how to best define what lobbying means. For example, some elected officials lobby supervisors for issues in their respective cities; are they lobbyists? Or are entire staff lists of large companies, like Southern California Edison, required to register?
Yet the majority’s vote to terminate all study of the issue will leave those questions unanswered for now. And it was unmoved by Dunn’s threat to go straight to the voters.
“I don’t fear the public putting forth an ordinance,” Supervisor Shawn Nelson said.
Moorlach echoed Nelson and made sure to note the Orange County Employees Association’s support of the ordinance. “I’m not afraid of the unions or Joe Dunn to do signature gathering.”
Officials with the OCEA said they expect to take direct and immediate action.
“The board’s refusal to consider any lobbying reform is deeply disappointing and demonstrates the lack of transparency that citizens of California are revolting against when it comes to elected officials,” OCEA Communications Director Jennifer Muir said.
Muir said that despite the supervisors’ attempts to shut down the debate by voting down Tuesday’s ordinance, the discussion will continue.
“We’re confident that those taxpayers will respond to this at the ballot box or possibly through legislative avenues.”
Clarification: A previous version of this story indicated that Joe Dunn would spearhead an effort to bring a lobby reform measure to the voters. Dunn does not yet know whether he would play a role in such a measure.