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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.
With assistance from my Legislative Assistant Newell Aldrich.
Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.
- LOBBYIST REGISTRATION ORDINANCE
- SUMMARY OF ORDINANCE
- IN PURSUIT OF THE PERFECT
LOBBYIST REGISTRATION ORDINANCE
This Monday, March 17, 2008, the Council unanimously passed Council Bill 116154, the lobbyist registration ordinance. I developed this ordinance, and sponsored it, along with co-sponsors Tim Burgess, Richard Conlin, Jean Godden, and Tom Rasmussen.
The purpose of the ordinance is to provide greater transparency in government, protect public confidence in government, preserve the integrity of the legislative process, and enable the public to see who is being paid to lobby elected officials. Seattle does not have a lobbyist registration ordinance, unlike every other major city on the West Coast: Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego all have lobbyist registration ordinances.
For a number of years I believed this needed to be rectified. I started working on such legislation in 2002 and testified before the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) at that time on a prior version. Years before that another version had been brought before them but it was abandoned because a provision to track grassroots lobbying campaigns might discourage citizen groups in communicating with elected officials. I ran into the same problem in 2002 and in 2007 as well, when some citizen activists thought the legislation was too broad and should be narrowed.
In 2007 I began with a new draft and held a briefing in August in my Public Safety Committee. The following month I hosted a brown bag discussion at City Hall with over 2,000 invitations sent out. Representatives from Washington State, King County and Portland talked about their programs. That fall I met and had discussions with individual citizen activists, and communicated with members of the League of Women Voters and other groups, and gave presentations before Municipal League and other community groups.
As a result over a dozen versions of the ordinance were produced to meet most of the concerns that were raised. Although I felt at times that as each one was addressed the most serious shortcoming of the legislation, a new one would be identified as a must change. Because of the budget period beginning in the fall, I had to put off the ordinance to this year.
But in late 2007, during my term as Council President, I began having the sign-in sheets to the Council offices posted on the Council’s website. Many meetings between Councilmembers and City departments take place in the Council offices, so this allowed the public to see when city departments were meeting with Councilmembers. The sign-in sheets can be viewed here.
I began January with a version that incorporated most of the recommendations, including dropping the grassroots lobbying section, and met again with SEEC. The much amended ordinance was passed by the Culture, Civil Rights, Health and Personnel Committee on February 27, 2008, and I believe now reflects the best practices for lobbyist registration ordinances. Laws in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Sacramento, Austin, Madison, New York, and Columbus were reviewed in developing this proposal.
The ordinance requires lobbyists to register if they meet two conditions: 1) they are paid, and 2) they lobby at least four days during a quarter. This is the standard used by Washington State. Lobbying constitutes communication with Councilmembers, the Mayor, and their staff in an attempt to influence them to develop, propose, adopt or reject legislation. The ordinance requires disclosure of who is lobbying, who is paying them to lobby, and the subject and specific legislation they are lobbying on.
The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission will be responsible for administration and enforcement. The reporting requirements are designed to be reasonable, and to use forms similar to those used by the State Public Disclosure Commission. The ordinance will go into effect in 180 days, or 30 days after SEEC adopts rules, whichever comes first. This is to allow sufficient time for implementation.
The ordinance requires the registration of public employees who are specifically employed to lobby, or lobbyists who are retained by an agency of government. Other public employees are exempted. This standard was based on the King County ordinance. Persons who limit lobbying to public sessions are also exempt, as are collective bargaining activities by labor organizations.
I thought writing this legislation should be fairly straight forward since both King County and Washington State have similar laws on the books and we adopted most of their features, recognizing that there were differences between them. In fact in reviewing other municipal lobbying legislation, there is considerable variation in exemptions, definitions, applications, and enforcement. It is difficult to say which is best.
Some reviewers of my legislation, like the Chamber of Commerce, suggested the ordinance be narrowed so as to not include lobbying “on behalf of others”; this could exempt, for example, developers who lobby for themselves (e.g. Industrial Lands, Downtown rezone, would have exempted many of the people lobbying.) I did not include this proposed change.
Others, like the SEEC, wanted employees of other government agencies to register as lobbyists rather than just their designated lobbyists, and some citizen activists wanted city employees to register as well. There was no support for either recommendation on the Council, I think for practical reasons. Elected representatives are paid to communicate with all types of government employees including those from other government bodies. Each communication, including emails, could conceivably have to be listed if someone felt it was influencing legislation. The amount of paper work generated could be staggering. I think that is the reason we have not found other municipal lobbying laws including those provisions.
It’s also noteworthy that among the 48 criteria the Center for Public Integrity used in determining that Washington State had the best state lobbyist registration law in the USA, they made no mention of requiring other governments or employees of a government to register.
My goal has been to get an ordinance passed so that at least Seattle would be on a par with other major west coast cities. This ordinance will accomplish that goal. Once it is up and running and we see how it works in practice, we can examine improvements. Ethics and Elections is required to issue an annual report to the City Council on the effectiveness of the ordinance. This will give us the tool we need to see how it works, and what to look at in the future.