Lobbyists were paid a record $16.5 million last year to influence Los Angeles City Hall, with cable television franchises topping the list, according to a report Monday by the city Ethics Commission.
The amount was $1.2 million more than the previous record, set in 2001, and is more than four times the amount spent in 1995. The report said many more businesses and individuals are turning to lobbyists for help in navigating the city’s complicated bureaucracy and political arena.
Eight years ago, 137 lobbyists reported 338 clients. Last year, 201 lobbyists represented 762 clients.
Rising fees for lobbyists and a growing number of important issues pending at City Hall contribute to the increase in spending, said Robert Stern, executive director of the Center for Governmental Studies, a nonpartisan Los Angeles group that advocates for ethics reforms.
One lobbyist, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said City Council turnover because of term limits also is making more work for lobbyists because it is harder to get decisions from new council members not familiar with complex issues.
Cable TV companies paid lobbyists $809,000 in 2002 to advocate their requests for franchises and otherwise affect city actions, the annual lobbyist report said. L.A.'s 13 lucrative franchises all expired last summer and the city Information Technology Agency has been developing recommendations on which companies should get the business. Projects to install cellular antennas, the development of Playa Vista and the Los Angeles International Airport modernization project also generated big lobbying bills.
In addition to the expense of lobbying on pending legislation, lobbyists made, delivered or acted as intermediary for $804,000 in political contributions, including $10,800 for Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and $9,500 for Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the Ethics Commission report found.
Daniel Tokaji, chairman of the ethics watchdog group California Common Cause, said the report shows the need for lobbyist reforms that have been pending for more than a year and a half before the City Council.
“The public should be very troubled by the amount of money going into lobbying City Hall,” Tokaji said. “It feeds the perception that City Hall increasingly does the bidding of well-heeled lobbyists rather than ordinary folks.”
LeeAnn Pelham, the Ethics Commission’s executive director, used the report to call again for the commission’s proposals. Current disclosure rules provide only a partial picture of how lobbyists influence city politicians, she said in a letter Monday to the City Council.
“It’s now time to take public transparency to the next level by requiring lobbyists to also disclose how much they fund-raise for the officials they’re trying to influence,” Pelham said.
Council members and Mayor James K. Hahn have raised concerns about some of the proposed changes, which are expected to be taken up by a council committee Wednesday.
In particular, Hahn has questioned a proposal requiring elected officials to abstain from voting on matters involving lobbyists who raise money for them or are employed to provide campaign help.
The report released Monday lists six lobbyist firms that received a total of $208,494 from elected officials to help them with fund-raising and campaign work, including the firm Targeted Communications, which was employed by Councilmen Nick Pacheco and Ed Reyes and Councilman-elect Tony Cardenas. The firm lobbied city officials for such clients as the billboard advertising firm Vista Media, KJLA-TV and the developer Advanced Development and Investment Inc.
The public should be more concerned about the fund-raising and other unreported help that lobbyists provide elected officials than the amount lobbyists are paid directly from clients, said Stern, of the Center for Governmental Studies.