County officials will today again attempt to craft a lobbyist registration ordinance with the aim of heightening transparency in government.
Under an ordinance proposed by County CEO Tom Mauk, supervisors would ask any professional who earned more than $500 in a year on lobbying to formally register.
While supervisors collectively bristled last year when former State Senator Joe Dunn (also chairman of the board for Voice of OC) first proposed the idea – and hinted at a ballot initiative if they didn’t act – they have attempted several times without luck to craft a compromise ordinance.
Orange County’s grand jury wrote a critical report of supervisors’ resistance to registration calling lobbyists the “shadow government.”
Advocates of lobby registration – such as the Orange County Employees Association – argue that shining a light on the nexus between votes and campaign contributions would go a long way to keeping public policy on the right track, and avoiding undue influence.
However, several supervisors – like John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson – argue that lobbyist registration is a solution in search of a problem.
“Voting for lobbying reform seems like a simple no brainer thing to do,” Moorlach said. “It scores political bonus points. But what’s sort of funny is I have lobbyists that help me with my campaigns and I still vote no on their clients.”
“We’ve got a great little county with a core group of identified lobbyists that conduct themselves in an ethical manner,” Moorlach said.
Others, like Supervisor Bill Campbell and Pat Bates, have argued that they agree with heightened transparency but don’t want to create undue regulations.
One thing is clear: requiring registration would give the public a better idea of who is advocating on behalf of issues, as well as the fact that there are issues that require such advocacy.
For example, under the currently proposed ordinance, former State Senator Dick Ackerman would have been required to register as a lobbyist in 2009 because he called four county supervisors – Moorlach, Campbell, Bates and Janet Nguyen – in the weeks before key legislation was adopted to sell the OC Fairgrounds.
Ackerman’s role in advocating for the fairgrounds sale has been the subject of rampant speculation since it was first disclosed that he was hired by the OC Fair Board. No one in the public knew the exact details of how he lobbied former legislators and supervisors until Voice of OC uncovered details of the lobby effort this week.
Regardless of what Moorlach called the “used car salesman” public perception of lobbyists, Campbell notes that registration also would have a meaningful impact on public policy because it would allow interested parties – activists, journalists and policymakers – to have a sense of who is advocating for special interests and how to contact them.
“It helps so people can connect the dots,” Campbell said.
The proposed ordinance would classify as a lobbyist as anyone hired to advocate on behalf of for profit entities, such as labor unions, corporations or other business entities.
However, non-profits are exempted as long as they are discussing the operation of their own entity.
The ordinance would define lobbying as “promoting, supporting, influencing, modifying, opposing, or delaying any administrative, legislative, or quasi-judicial action of the Orange County Board of Supervisors by any means.”
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.