The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, an influential group that successfully advocated for hiking the minimum wage for hotel workers, confirmed this week that it erred in filling out city forms intended to publicly reveal its lobbying activities, leaving off information about how much it had paid to employees who act as lobbyists.
Last week, The Times reported that the group had left key parts of city forms blank, reporting no money spent on lobbying during periods when the group had major campaigns underway at City Hall.
Between 2009 and 2014, LAANE did not report any payments to its registered in-house lobbyists or any related expenses, despite the fact that emails and calendars for city officials show those lobbyists met regularly with lawmakers and their aides and helped suggest wording to city lawyers for the hotel wage ordinance.
The group also did not list any matters its representatives lobbied on. Under city rules, lobbying includes a wide range of activities meant to influence municipal legislation, including talking to city officials, drafting ordinances and attending or monitoring city meetings.
After The Times raised questions about the missing information, LAANE said it had mistakenly left off information about payments to in-house lobbyists and would submit amended filings.
"We are an open and transparent organization, and by our nature seek to engage the public in all our work," Roxana Tynan, LAANE executive director, said in a written statement Friday, describing LAANE's mission as "giving voice to low-wage workers and polluted communities."
"We made some mistakes in our reporting to the City of Los Angeles, and have retained Kaufman Legal Group to review our filings with the city, correct those errors and ensure that we comply with all rules going forward," Tynan wrote.
A spokesman for LAANE did not answer questions about how many years back it would go in reviewing and correcting its forms or whether other parts of the forms were also wrongly left blank, reiterating that the group would consult with the legal group about fixing any errors.
Critics of LAANE questioned how such a formidable organization overlooked what one attorney called "Lobbying Forms 101."
"It is not rocket science," said Jim Sutton, a campaign attorney who assisted a hotel industry group seeking records about LAANE. He said the group should have calculated the percentage of time that each employee spent on lobbying to provide a dollar figure. "It is completely implausible that this would be an inadvertant mistake.... This is a complete disregard of the most basic lobbying disclosure rules."
Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Assn., said "LAANE is a special interest, no different than any business or trade association, and needs to play by the same rules."
"They need to tell us what they're lobbying about, how many hours they're spending on lobbying, and how much they're paying their in-house lobbyists," said Schatz, whose group advocates for downtown business and is often at odds with LAANE. "If they don't, it makes a mockery of the city's ethics law."
This is not the first time the organization has admitted to making mistakes on the city forms: Deputy Director James Elmendorf confirmed last year that LAANE had failed to report which government agencies each of its lobbyists had tried to influence, and later sent in amended forms after The Times drew the missing information to its attention.
The group has bristled at the paperwork in the past: In 2011, Elmendorf wrote on the Capital and Main website that he resented having to register as a lobbyist because he didn't meet "anyone's standard definition of a lobbyist — a paid flak for various and sundry rich interests." He argued that nonprofits like LAANE should be exempted from the rules or charged a reduced filing fee.
Knowingly violating city rules about lobbying disclosures is a misdemeanor, according to a city ordinance. The Ethics Commission can also impose penalties and issue orders for violating the rules, knowingly or unknowingly. Under the City Charter, those penalties can range up to $5,000 for each violation or three times the amount that the person failed to report properly.
Getting accurate information about lobbying "just runs to the heart of transparency in local government," said Sarah Swanbeck, a policy advocate for California Common Cause, which advocates for accountable government. Her group often follows lobbying spending on the state level to see which players are stepping up their activity. "Being able to track these numbers is important."
Opponents have eyed how much LAANE spends on lobbying because under federal tax rules governing such 501(c)(3) nonprofits, lobbying cannot be a "substantial part" of its activities. After being asked how the public could be confident that LAANE was accurately reporting those federal lobbying expenses in light of the city errors, Tynan said in a written statement that LAANE "rigorously tracks its advocacy and has fully reported all its lobbying expenses to the IRS."