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Ethics Panel OKs Tough New Rules for City Lobbyists : Government: Broad definition of the occupation is adopted. Lobbyists must register if they earn more than $4,000 in a quarter.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission on Thursday adopted a broad definition of what it means to be a lobbyist and warned that confusion about the rules will no longer be an excuse for the practitioners of City Hall’s oldest profession to avoid public disclosure of their activities.

Commission President Dennis Curtis said the next step will be tough enforcement of the disclosure rules.

“Our next effort is to look at those lobbyists who are not now reporting their activities to see if they should be,” Curtis said.

The commission’s action is intended to clarify the new lobbyist disclosure law adopted by the City Council last summer. After it was passed, the number of registered lobbyists dropped to 58 from more than 300.

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The law is a revision of one that had required anyone earning more than $1 a year to register with the city as a lobbyist. The new measure raised that threshold to $4,000 or more per quarter. Significantly, it also required registration by lobbyists who had at least one “direct communication” with a decision-maker.

It was that element of the revised law that prompted widespread questions by lobbyists, many of whom contended that they were now exempt from registration because their work did not fall within the definition of “direct communication.”

But on Thursday the commission said its interpretation of the law was going to be much tougher than that. Payment for directly contacting lawmakers is one activity that counts toward the $4,000 threshold but so is compensation paid to lobbyists for other, more indirect, activities--including drafting statutes or regulations, seeking editorial support from the news media, monitoring City Hall meetings and researching issues.

“To limit the definition of lobbying . . . only to time spent in actual direct communications with a city official would not only be inconsistent with the intent of the ordinance but would also render the law’s disclosure requirements meaningless,” the commission held, adopting an opinion clarifying the law written by the city attorney’s office.

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“Now there should be no ambiguity about what we’re saying about what constitutes lobbying activities,” said Leann Pelham, commission deputy director. “That’s been the key question a lot of people have been asking.”

City ethics staff refused to identify lobbyists who they suspect may have failed to comply with the new law.


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