SANTA ANA - The Orange County Board of Supervisors took up the matter of lobbyist registration for the second time in as many weeks on Tuesday. The proposal, introduced by Supervisors Bates and Nelson, would have required virtually anyone who spoke to any public official about pending matters before them to register as a lobbyist.
Supervisor Bill Campbell, who had his more well developed proposal voted down by the Board on November 9th, “was surprised” to learn that his colleagues were introducing a last minute proposal for lobbyist registration. But he told his colleagues that the “devil is in the details” and after reviewing their proposal he felt it would be more appropriately named the “Citizen Registration Ordinance.”
Campbell walked through several scenarios with County Counsel on how the Ordinance would affect dialogue between constituents and Board members. In almost all cases presented, from a resident urging approval or denial of a development project, to the volunteer President of a non-profit seeking approval of a proposal benefiting the community, the individuals would have to register as a lobbyist.
While the CEO of the Orange County Business Council (OCBC) Lucy Dunn has expressed support for the registration of paid lobbyists, she had concerns over the proposal introduced by Bates and Nelson.
“This ordinance troubles us quite significantly,” Orange County Business Council CEO Lucy Dunn said. “It expands the definition of lobbyists beyond what any jurisdiction has ever proposed.”
Supervisor Nelson admitted that the proposal, which he drafted and Supervisor Bates introduced, was an effort to show that there was no reasonable way to register lobbyists fairly without registering everyone. His proposal was simply a publicity stunt; a way to confuse people into believing he supports registration of lobbyists by drafting an absurd proposal when he really does not. Sadly, Supervisor Bates fell for the ruse.
This isn’t the first time Supervisor Nelson has acted as a “Stunt Double”. During his campaign for Supervisor, Nelson as a Fullerton City Councilman voted against the proposed Coyote Hills development project so that he could dupe opponents of the project into thinking he was environmentally conscious. He even went so far as to use his vote on the project in campaign mail targeting those voters. After winning election to the Board of Supervisors, he then tried to get his Council colleagues to reconsider the matter in a special meeting so that he could change his vote and approve the project before he left the Council.
Orange County is one of only two in the state that does not have some level of regulation regarding lobbyists. Supervisor John Moorlach suggested that that might mean that Orange County is doing something right and doesn’t have a problem. Ultimately, after seeing that their colleagues were not taking the bait, Supervisor Bates withdrew her motion and the Board punted the job of drafting something to County Counsel and the CEO, asking them to report back next year (60 days) with a proposal. Here is the coverage from our colleagues at the Voice of OC and Orange County Register on the matter. VOC – Supervisors Punt Lobby Reform to County CEO; OCR – County lobby reform goes back to drawing board.
There is a broad base of support among business and labor leaders for some form of registration and reporting for lobbyists. Retired State Senator Joe Dun, who introduced the concept of lobbying reform in January, as well as the Orange County Employees Association has suggested that the matter might be taken directly to the voters if the Board refuses to take any reasonable steps towards transparency. Polls have shown broad public support for disclosure and registration of county lobbyists and their activities.
It will be interesting to see what staff is able to come up with in the coming months. Hopefully they will start with Campbell’s well researched and thought out first step and move forward from that point.