Last week, the City of Anaheim passed a new “sunshine” ordinance designed to restrict government lobbying by former employees but also prohibits the city from hiring people employed at Lobbying firms while requiring anyone who lobbies the city or government agencies that Anaheim has a board seat for two years.
The Voice of OC does a nice job of reviewing the vote and the debate surrounding it. The measure, drafted by the council’s lone Democrat — Dr. Jose Moreno — has some holes. And they are big ones. The holes underscore a lack of understanding of what a lobbyist is compared with a public affairs person does while protecting staffers in the Tait majority who are registered lobbyists.
Moreno’s ordinance focuses on the word “lobbying” where a number of professionals who do work for various members of the city council focus on “public affairs.” Public Affairs professionals and Lobbyists share many traits but there are stark differences — lobbyists work inside the government chambers (where the term “lobbying” was born – by people who waited in lobbies to chat with and influence legislators). Typically, a lobbyist is paid a baseline retainer with a bonus tied to a specific outcome — getting a bill passed that favors a client.
Public affairs professionals typically work outside government chambers, seeking to influence public opinion and garner public support for legislation via public relations and social media efforts, but they are not lobbyists per se.
If the measure was drafted by Moreno to eliminate lobbyists from city council member staffs, Council member Denise Barnes’ policy aide Matt Holder — a hardcore conservative Republican — is the only registered lobbyist on staff. Then he needs to go, but likely won’t because he’s protected by Barnes and Tait’s team. Council member Steve Faessel uses FSB Core Strategies for council policy aide work, but Jeff Flint, who runs and company and is a registered lobbyist with the county, doesn’t work on Faessel’s “account” — staffers do and they aren’t lobbyists. Holder says the county’s lobbyists database is “out of date” and has hasn’t been a lobbyist for years, but he still is listed with the county. Holder’s form 700 lists him as a public affairs professional, so if protecting Barnes’s staffer from his own ordinance then it will also protect Faessel’s aides as well as those of Kris Murray and Lucille Kring.
This post isn’t a defense so much of the council minority’s staff but a defense of public affairs professionals versus lobbyists. Lobbyists are typically paid on securing a particular outcome; public affairs professionals are not. The Anaheim council’s Tait majority doesn’t get that.
Council member James Vanderbilt expressed concern about the ordinance being a hatchet versus a scapel; from the VOC:
Vanderbilt raised concerns about a provision of the ordinance that bars employees from accepting employment or receiving compensation from a person or organization that has entered into a contract with the city, within one year of leaving their job at the city.
In order for that provision to apply, the employee must have a substantive role in the awarding of the contract, and subsequently perform work related to that contract after leaving the city.
Vanderbilt raised concerns that the ordinance was too broad, given the number of public agencies, nonprofits and private entities the city contracts with.
“I’m concerned that we’re taking a hatchet as opposed to a scalpel to this approach,” Vanderbilt said.
It’s also unclear how the city can enforce rules on where a former city employee can work after they leave.
“There’s not an enforcement mechanism for this revolving door section,” said Acting City Attorney Kristen Pelletier. “We would put together administrative regulations that would apply to our employees.”
While the city can’t stop someone from going to work for a lobbyist after they leave the city, they can keep them from “being the person to come back and lobby the city,” said Moreno.
The ordinance has the unintended consequence of hurting small businesses in Anaheim who do work with the city. For example, many small businesses would have to choose between bidding on city businesses and work with lobbying firms. The Tait majority has no plan for creating jobs and in many cases hurts the very businesses they should want to succeed.
If Moreno really wants to add teeth to this, he’d expand his ordinance to elected officials and the businesses they run. Mayor Tom Tait runs Tait & Associates — a developer for a number of real estate projects around Orange County. While Tait himself might be prohibited from lobbying OCTA and the City of Anaheim, there’s no restriction on someone from Tait’s company from doing so using insider information on projects and budgets gleaned from Tait’s work with the city or the OCTA.
Tait already has a history of transferring a business interest to his kids to allow him to vote on a matter regarding Angels Stadium, just like President Trump transferred operations of his businesses to his sons; there’s no transparency to show who’s paying the property taxes on that property and I’ll take bets on how fast that property’s ownership is transferred back (December 2018?).
Will Tait and Associates bid on new OCTA contracts that Tait was aware of while serving on the OCTA board? Tait might not lobby personally for it, but $10 says a member of his team does — loaded with insider information to give the company an edge. Restrict *that* behavior. But its hard to go against a political mentor even when they belong to the other party.