Anaheim City Council members are considering beefing up the city’s lobbyist rules in the wake of the city hall corruption scandal and may require government relations employees to register as lobbyists.

That means Disney’s Director of External Affairs, Carrie Nocella, might have to register as a lobbyist for the first time at City Hall. 

[Read: Anaheim’s Corruption Investigation Highlights How Lobbyists Across OC Slip Past Registration Rules]

Anaheim City Council members floated the idea during Tuesday’s meeting – marking the first in a series of reform discussions set to take place over the next few months.

The proposals are aimed at increasing transparency at city hall and curbing outsized influence on policy making from Disneyland resort interests, as detailed by independent investigators and the FBI.

It comes after a 353-page report released late July, in which investigators allege potential criminal violations, influence peddling, a disregard for the state’s open meeting laws, pay to play schemes and certain developers receiving preferential treatment at city hall.

Investigators also detail a loose network of lobbyists, with little enforcement of the city’s current rules and allege multiple high profile lobbyists violated the law by failing to report a host of meetings with officials.

[Read: Anaheim’s Corruption Investigation Highlights How Lobbyists Across OC Slip Past Registration Rules]

Currently, only contracted lobbyists are required to register with the city.

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken, who’s spearheading reform discussions, said it’s time to reconsider that. 

“There can be people that are inhouse in an organization, in a corporation whose job 24/7 is to influence government officials,” she said. “We need to have that conversation of expanding it beyond just those employed by lobbyist firms and look at organizational lobbyists.” 

Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.

A majority of her council colleagues seemingly agreed to explore expanding who’s considered a lobbyist.

Craig Steele, an attorney brought in to help the council review its current policy, said Anaheim’s current definition of a lobbyist is not common.

“I would say Anaheim’s exemption for in-house employees is unusual – it’s not typical,” said Steele, a former city attorney for Seal Beach who previously investigated campaign finance issues in Ventura County. 

Steel said cities like San Diego require those types of employees to register as lobbyists.

Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava said she would like to see labor union representatives have to report meetings when they advocate policies to city officials, using an upcoming ballot measure to increase the minimum wage for hotel workers as an example.

“I completely understand the First Amendment part of advocating for your membership,” she said, adding those discussions wouldn’t count as lobbying. 

“However, when labor comes in and tries to influence policy, that’s different,” Rubalcava said. 

Efforts to start a recall election against Rubalcava – who is detailed in the investigation report –  kicked off last month with support from representatives of Unite Here 11, a union representing hotel workers.

[Read: Efforts to Start a Recall of Anaheim City Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava Are Underway]

On Tuesday, city council members directed staff to come back with different proposals to strengthen the city’s lobbyist rules, including applying it to government affairs employees at various companies who advocate elected officials for policies or contracts.

They also told staff to come back with proposals on how to best sunshine the calendars of the  city council and city manager so residents can see who they’ve been meeting with. 

It comes after an earlier attempt by Aitken to discuss revamping the city lobbyist policy and other reforms in light of the independent corruption fizzled out at the Aug. 15 city council meeting.

One day later, news broke that former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu agreed to plead guilty to public corruption charges, including lying to federal investigators about leaking critical information to an Angels consultant in an effort to ram the stadium land sale through for up to $1 million in campaign support. 

[Read: Ex-Anaheim Mayor Sidhu Agrees to Plead Guilty to Corruption Charges]

Councilman Carlos Leon also questioned why in-house employees at companies tasked with lobbying local governments were exempt from having to report and register as a lobbyist in Anaheim.

“I think that exemption is part of the problem and I’d like to see us explore that further,” Leon said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think there’s concern about those inhouse employees that have influence over the council.”

Leon pointed to a sworn FBI affidavit that surfaced last alleging lobbyists having outsized influence in Anaheim and Irvine.

Federal agents also detailed an alleged shadowy network of Disneyland resort interests that heavily influence policy making in Anaheim.

To read the FBI affidavit, click here.

Leon also pointed to the former mayor’s agreement to plead guilty to public corruption charges and a 353-page independent, city-commissioned corruption report released in July, that expounded on those FBI’s allegations. 

That report mentions Disney’s Nocella multiple times.

Investigators allege Nocella was at a secret Anaheim Chamber of Commerce retreat detailed by the FBI, may have bragged about having information from closed session city council meetings and helped recruit people to a political action committee they say was used to groom elected officials.

According to the independent investigation report, former chamber CEO Todd Ament spearheaded a plan during that retreat to keep as much as $100 million out of city coffers once the 1997 resort bonds are paid off – in a town where nearly half of residents are on public health plans.

City council members didn’t mention Disneyland or Nocella in Tuesday’s discussion on tightening the city’s lobbyist ordinance

Councilwoman Natalie Meeks expressed support for greater transparency around who the council meets with, but also said she doesn’t want to restrict anyone’s right to petition the government. 

“That’s one of my objectives is that we don’t draft something that prevents any of those people or anyone else from exercising their rights and talking to us,” she said.

Councilman Jose Diaz said an overly complex policy could jam up the city. 

“If we make it super complicated, we’re gonna make a lot of issues here,” Diaz said, adding that he’s worried a beefed up policy could “make it so hard for this city to function, that we’re going to hang ourself.” 

Meanwhile, Disney heavily supported the campaigns of Stephen Faessel, Diaz, Meeks and Rubalcava through independent expenditures – buying things like political mailers and digital advertising.

Jessica Good, spokeswoman for Disney, previously told Voice of OC that Nocella does not have to register as a lobbyist under the current city law.

When asked what Nocella’s responsibilities and job duties were exactly, Good did not answer the question.

In an August phone interview, former Councilwoman Denise Barnes said Nocella is the face for Disney and “the first impression you get at that company.”

“If you ever needed any help, that was the door you went to first,” she said “That’s Mama Bear. She’s going to protect everything about the company she represents.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


Since you’ve made it this far,

You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford, but it’s not free to produce. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.