The Orange County Board of Supervisors took a big step toward transparency Tuesday by unanimously approving the first reading of an ordinance that would require lobbyists who are paid more than $500 to register with the county and file annual reports.
Today’s vote marks a victory for those who for years have been calling for lobby reform in Orange County. Supervisors failed in three attempts in recent months to come to agreement on a law. A lobbyist registry was first proposed early last year by former State Senator (and Voice of OC Board Chairman) Joe Dunn.
Most large California counties — including San Diego and Los Angeles — have had lobbyist registries for years.
“Its a victory for taxpayers today, and we are really glad the supervisors hammered out a resolution to this,” said Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Association, one of the biggest proponents of lobby reform.
Despite the unanimous vote, supervisors Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach say they still don’t see a need for it.
“I think this probably a lot to do over nothing,” Nelson said.
Although lobbyists would be required to register under the ordinance, they would not be required to disclose who their clients are. Also, lobbyists would be able to change clients throughout the year without having to report the changes to the county, according to County Chief Executive Tom Mauk. The law calls for lobbyists to start registering July 1.
A key issue yet to be resolved is whether to exclude non-profit organizations from the requirement.
The consensus among supervisors, with the exception of Supervisor Janet Nguyen, was clear — if you’re after taxpayer money, you’re a lobbyist, regardless of your tax status.
“They’re [non-profits] going to be ‘lobbying’ for these contracts,” said Supervisor John Moorlach.
Nguyen, however, was reluctant to paint nonprofits with such a broad stroke, saying that the executive director and board of directors for a nonprofit aren’t after personal gain.
Nguyen did say, however, that a good trigger would be to have a nonprofit register if the organization actually hires a lobbyist. Ultimately, the board directed staff to come back with more information on exempting nonprofits, and supervisors will discuss it again then.
Supervisors also changed the reporting requirement from quarterly to annual. Supervisor Pat Bates asked for a review of the $75 lobbyist registration to make sure that the fee would actually pay for the administration of the registry.
County lobbying firms and county lobbyist employers would also be required to register.
— ADAM ELMAHREK