Los Angeles Ethics Panel to Revisit Donation Rule

Times Staff Writer

Members of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission signaled their intent Tuesday to ease a new requirement that lobbyists must disclose contributions to charitable events that involve elected officials.

After a parade of lobbyists and representatives of nonprofit groups warned that the requirement would have a chilling effect on charitable giving, four of the commissioners ordered staff members to come back next month with a new approach to the disclosure issue.

At issue is whether having an officeholder’s name on an event triggers a city requirement that lobbyists must disclose donations made “at the behest of” the elected official. The commission’s staff argued for the disclosure.


But commission President Gil Garcetti said he thought “it’s crazy” to conclude that merely putting an officeholder’s name on an invitation to a charitable fundraiser means that donations were made at the behest of the politician.

“If he or she doesn’t do anything ... they haven’t attempted to raise money,” said Garcetti, a former Los Angeles County district attorney.

The issue arose after several lobbyists filed reports showing they had contributed to the ninth annual Los Angeles Political Roast, a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Assn. The March event, organized by lobbyists Harvey Englander and Ernie Berghoff, featured several contribution levels, dubbed “heavy hitters,” “fat cats” and “power brokers.”

The cover of the event’s invitation featured a large color photo of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the target of the roast.

Inside, the invitation listed all 15 Los Angeles City Council members, plus City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Controller Laura Chick as members of an “honorary committee.” That brought the number of elected city officials to 18.

When the law firm Weston Benshoof, which represents clients before city agencies, filed its first-quarter lobbying report, it listed the same $10,000 contribution to the diabetes association 18 separate times.

Ethics Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham said the staff did not advise lobbyists to report the contributions in that manner.

Englander, president of an association of lobbyists and public affairs professionals, said the current reporting requirement goes too far and creates the misleading appearance that lobbyists are giving far more money to charitable events at the behest of officeholders. “Please bring some common sense to the rules,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Boyarsky agreed with the lobbyists that “the law as enforced now has a definite chilling effect on many, many nonprofits around the city that do an important job in keeping this place going.”