In a city that has been dogged by allegations of sweetheart deals in recent years, Anaheim’s decision to adopt a sunshine ordinance is a positive step forward for government transparency.
Among the highlights of the proposal are rules that would ban council members from hiring staff who moonlight as lobbyists that have business dealings with the city.
“The city would also require lobbyists to pay a yet-to-be-determined amount to register with the city, and report on a regular basis who they are lobbying on behalf of, and what projects they are lobbying for, as part of a quarterly statement filed with the city clerk,” the Register reported. “The clerk would then publish an annual report available to the public of lobbyist activities.”
Councilman Jose Moreno, who proposed the ordinance, argued that it is important that those who are paid to influence city decisions aren’t also being paid by the city while they do it.
“This is about folks who are compensated to directly influence through communication and agents the decision-making process of our city,” he said. “That needs to be transparent.”
Moreno is right. While lobbyists undoubtedly have expertise in their fields, employing them, especially when they or their firms do business with the city, creates a clear conflict of interest. Moreover, the public has a right to know who is lobbying their elected officials and why.
But not everyone agreed. Lucille Kring called it “overreach.” Kris Murray, on the other hand, felt the ordinance did not go far enough.
Murray has suggested some changes to the ordinance, including adopting specific language addressing conflicts of interest and expanding the rules to unions and nonprofits. She also wants to bar council members from hiring former campaign staff.
Details can be debated, as banning campaign staff, for example, seems unnecessary if they meet all the other requirements of the ordinance, but Murray’s point in the abstract is well taken.
If lobbyists have an incentive to influence government, that surely extends to those who are paid or funded by government. They shouldn’t be excluded simply because they are a “nonbusiness” entity.
Anaheim took an important step, but it could go further.