Special interest groups will have to disclose many more details of how they are spending money to influence California officials under new rules approved Thursday by the state’s ethics panel.
Currently, corporations, labor unions and other groups must report the money they pay directly to lobbyists, along with the identity of the advocate.
But the rest of the cash they spend on consultants, television and radio campaigns, public affairs and mail is reported as a lump sum in a category called "other payments to influence," without any explanation.
“The amount of money that is being spent in the dark is extremely compelling,” said state Fair Political Practices Commission member Eric Casher.
The panel on Thursday voted to require, starting in July, that lobbying firms report details of any payment to influence of $2,500 per calendar quarter, including money spent on mailers, TV ads and polls.
“In order to make sure people are playing by the rules, we need this type of information,” said Jodi Remke, chairwoman of the panel. “It puts a light on what is going on.”
The newly disclosed information will include the name and business address of the payee, the amount paid and the primary purpose of the payment.
Purposes will be disclosed by codes broadly designating activities that include:
--Payments for public affairs, which includes coalition building, grass-roots campaigns,, news releases, media campaigns, literature and mailings.
--Polling and public opinion research:
--Lobbying events, including rallies or hearings to influence legislative or administrative action.
--Advertising spending, including billboards, print, radio, television, text, email and other electronic communication.
--Money paid to lobbyists and consultants for researching, analyzing or drafting legislation, and recommending strategy on pending bills and administrative proposals.
Remke said the new rules may reveal which former legislators are working behind the scenes to help clients without registering as lobbyists because they don’t meet thresholds for payments received to directly communicate with elected officials.
Remke made reference, without using names, to former state Sen. Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) and former state Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno), who resigned from the Legislature to go to work in the government affairs offices of Chevron and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, respectively.
“I think we are going to get [disclosure of] the people like the former members who leave the Legislature early, join Chevron, join the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers, but call themselves government relations advocates,” Remke said. “But we know what they are doing. They are exposing their clients to the [legislative] members and doing other things short of direct communication.”