Consumer group calls on Sen. Hertzberg to disclose clients

Consumer group calls on Sen. Hertzberg to disclose clients
State Sen. Robert Hertzberg has been asked to disclose his client list as an attorney. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A consumer group asked Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) on Monday to disclose all clients he takes on as an attorney with a law firm to determine whether he has a conflict of interest in pushing a proposal to revamp corporate taxes in California.

Leaders of the group Consumer Watchdog made the request after Hertzberg introduced a bill that would broaden the sales tax to include services, potentially including legal work, advertising and Internet usage, while lowering the personal and corporate income tax.

"With SB 8, you have proposed a drastic change to California's tax system, targeting some industries for increased taxes while reducing the overall corporate income tax," said the letter signed by Consumer Watchdog Executive Director Carmen Balber and consumer advocate Cody Rosenfield.

"Disclosure of your clients will allow Californians to gauge the net impact on these clients if your proposal is adopted, and whether any conflict exists between their business interests and the public interest," the letter added.

Shortly after he was elected in November, Hertzberg announced he was also taking a position as a government affairs attorney with the law firm Glaser Weil. The firm is secretive about its clients, Balber said, but its website indicates some of its clients include Occidental Petroleum, Bank of America, MGM Grand, Southern California Gas Company and Roche.

Hertzberg said Monday he does not yet have any legal clients but will disclose the names of clients when he gets them. "Disclosure is the right thing to do," he said.

A Hertzberg spokesman said an immediate response to the request was not available, but the senator had previously said he would make sure there was no conflict of interest.

"I will never get close to the line, and they would never want me to come close to the line," Hertzberg said in November. "We've thought about it a lot to make sure there is no question."

Balber noted that state law requires real estate agents and grocers to disclose sources of income, but attorneys can avoid listing clients of their law firms.

"It is vital to the health of our democracy that the people of California know the full financial interests of the people who represent them," Balber wrote. "Any state official who maintains a business while serving in the state Legislature should reveal to every extent possible their economic interests."

Hertzberg 's representatives said Monday his tax reform plan would generate $3 billion in additional funds for K-14 education, $2 billion for state universities, $3 billion for local governments for more public safety, parks and libraries and $2 billion to provide a refundable earned income tax credit to help low-income families offset the burden of the new sales and use taxes.

[Updated 4:23 pm to add that Hertzberg said he does not yet have any legal clients but will disclose the identities of any clients he gets in the future.]