City Ethics Panel Urges Lobbying Curbs

Times Staff Writer

Top Los Angeles city officials, including all elected officials and department heads, should be banned from City Hall lobbying for a year after leaving their posts, a city ethics panel report said Wednesday.

The panel's report also called for greater restrictions on the lobbying activities of former lower-level officials and fuller public disclosure of whom lobbyists represent and the specific projects they are promoting.

"Allowing people to pass too readily between public and private employment . . . presents opportunities for personal relationships to be exploited, confidential information to be used inappropriately, and may encourage self-serving individuals who are only looking to make contacts for future employment to become part of the government," the report said.

The report is one of a series prepared by the staff of a commission that is drafting a new ethics code for city government. The panel was formed by Mayor Tom Bradley last April, the day after he won an unexpectedly narrow election to a fifth term amid a growing controversy over possible conflicts of interest in his personal business dealings.

The panel's work has become part of broader reevaluation of City Hall ethics regulations and enforcement triggered by the current city attorney's probe of Bradley, particularly fees he accepted from two financial institutions that had dealings with the city.

Several City Council members have proposed reform packages of their own and the council's Ad Hoc Ethics Committee, chaired by Councilman Michael Woo, is expected to recommend its own reforms in the months ahead.

The city's current ethics code has been widely criticized for being vague and toothless.

Susan Estrich, a Harvard University law professor and former campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, told the Los Angeles Ethics Commission Wednesday that City Hall's current lobbyist regulations "leave too many areas for conflicting loyalties." Estrich is serving as unpaid special counsel to the mayor's commission and helped write the latest report.

The report called for:

* A one-year "cooling-off" period in which the mayor, City Council members, department heads and salaried members of the Public Works Commission could engage in no lobbying--or advising clients--with any branch of city government. Currently, those officials may return to City Hall to lobby immediately after leaving office.

* Restricting other commissioners and city employees from lobbying the departments they worked for for at least one year. Currently, such officials are restricted only from lobbying on specific matters in which they were personally involved.

* More detailed disclosure by lobbyists, particularly by lawyers, of the clients they represent, the contracts or projects they are working on and the fees they collect. Currently, lawyers often list their law firms as the party they represent.

Former city Planning Commission President Dan Garcia, now a successful lobbyist for developers, took exception to some of the recommendations. Garcia told the panel that the regulations do not recognize the significant political clout that organized homeowners, who also have a vested interest in developments, can wield.

He also argued that it would be "unconscionable" to force him to report all of the fees he collects from clients with city business.

"Most of what I do is not lobbying," he said, describing meetings with architects and reviews of city ordinances. "It makes it appear I'm being paid thousands and thousands of dollars."

But another prominent lobbyist, Maureen Kindell, Bradley's former Public Works Commission chairman, told the panel that she generally supported the proposals and believed that they clarify the ground rules.

Woo, who also testified, endorsed most of the proposals, some of which he has proposed himself. But he said lobbyists should not have to disclose their fees, which he said are merely an object of curiosity.

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