Orange County Supervisors Pat Bates and Shawn Nelson have teamed up to introduce a new version a controversial measure requiring lobbyists to register with the county so the public can know who is influencing votes on contracts and other public policy issues.
The ordinance was submitted on Friday to the county clerk of the board and will be ready for debate this Tuesday. Two weeks ago, Supervisor Bill Campbell proposed a lobbying ordinance that was voted down by Nelson, Bates and John Moorlach.
Under the proposed ordinance, anyone who lobbies to influence the county board on behalf of someone else will need to register publicly once a year.
This is one of two items for Tuesday’s meeting that seeks to shed some light on how supervisors are lobbied. County Supervisor Bill Campbell has also introduced a policy change that would establish rules for email and text communications when supervisors are on the dais during weekly meetings.
Earlier this year, a county grand jury criticized supervisors for not requiring basic registration requirements for lobbyists, similar to practices in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
In addition, former state Sen. Joe Dunn (also chairman of the board for Voice of OC) and the Orange County Employees Association advocated for a lobbyist registration. Both have issued comments indicating that a ballot measure or other type of action is likely if the Board of Supervisors doesn’t establish a lobbying ordinance of its own.
Bates said after the vote two weeks ago that she received plenty of feedback from the public insisting on some sort of sunshine on lobbying. The former community activist in Laguna Niguel said that resonated with her.
“We are responding to what is a public need based on the grand jury,” Bates said. “When you put it out there for public consumption, people will say, Why don’t we have” a lobbyist ordinance? She said: “People think you’re hiding something.”
That bothered her, she said.
Bates and Nelson said they agreed to work together following the vote and have now fashioned the new ordinance. Yet both still say that a new ordinance is overkill given that the county already has a gift ban and a tough campaign finance ordinance on the books.
“This county has a really open door,” Bates said. “We know who’s fighting with who.”
Others do not agree. Unions, open government activists and the grand jury see a shadow government that is constantly influencing votes where millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.
But despite proposing the ordinance, Bates, who has been an elected official at just about every level in Orange County, said that she views lobbyists as an important part of the process because they are able to articulate issues in front of elected officials quickly and effectively.
“To me, it’s a healthy part of our democracy that we have this back and forth,” she said.
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.