Paid lobbyists in Orange County should be required to register and publicly report the issues and officials they are trying to influence, stated a county grand jury report released today.
“The Orange County Board of Supervisors and the County’s elected and appointed leaders were responsible for over $4.4 billion of taxpayer funds in fiscal year 2008-2009,” said the grand jury report, but “the public has no means to determine the influence of special interest groups or lobbyists on the use of these funds.”
Orange County is the largest local government agency in California that allows paid lobbyists to influence government decisions without public scrutiny, according to the report titled “Lobbying: The Shadow Government”.
A lobbyist registration program could fund itself if the county charged groups and individuals fees to register as lobbyists, said the report. This is the way it is done in Los Angeles and other jurisdictions.
The grand jury estimated about 25 paid individuals and groups regularly lobby the five county supervisors, other elected officials, such as the sheriff, district attorney or county treasurer and key department heads.
“The amount of money spent on these activities is unknown and the influence on Orange County government is a matter of speculation,” said the report.
The ordinance proposed by the grand jury would require paid lobbyists to register with the county before contacting an elected official or department head, or within 10 days after contacting an official.
In addition, lobbyists would have to file quarterly reports detailing their lobbying activities, including describing the subject or action they were trying to influence, how much they were paid, payments “in any form” given to county officials and campaign contributions to local officials.
“These data will be part of the public record and be fully accessible to the public including electronic access to records,” the report recommended.
It said fines and possible misdemeanor charges should be filed against lobbyists who violate the reporting requirements.
The report noted the Board of Supervisors has begun discussing the issue “but is divided in its support of a substantive lobbying ordinance.”
— TRACY WOOD