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    Anaheim council close to adopting new lobbying laws despite some division
    • October 26, 2023

    The City Council, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, debated at length on how encompassing an updated lobbying law should be in Anaheim, but divisions emerged over how far some of the most substantial reforms proposed so far should go, which were ultimately hammered out in compromise.

    A council majority agreed to keep most of the lobbying law changes, but they did ask city staff to take away language concerning government affairs employees registering as lobbyists. Some councilmembers, however, decried the efforts as going too far.

    The proposed update to the city’s lobbying laws would empower the city auditor to audit a random 20% of registered lobbyists in the city annually and to ask elected officials and members of the city’s executive team for information about past meetings where they have been lobbied. It also has definitions for what influencing city officials means and would expand record-keeping requirements for lobbyists.

    Craig Steele, an attorney who is helping Anaheim navigate its series of reforms, said at Tuesday’s meeting that under-reporting lobbying activity is likely happening now in Anaheim.

    The council last updated its lobbying law in 2022, making it a criminal penalty to run afoul of the lobbying rules.

    The City Council is now making another attempt to enhance the laws in Anaheim after independent investigators recently alleged a pattern of potential lobbying violations when they were commissioned to look at concerns of corruption and influence peddling in City Hall. The council will likely vote on a final version of updates in a few weeks.

    City Clerk Theresa Bass said there are currently 18 lobbyists registered with the city, and that number typically hovers around 20.

    Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said the proposed ordinance has teeth, and will ensure people who are attempting to influence city officials register as lobbyists.

    “The point of this lobbying ordinance is that Anaheim citizens deserve to know who has the ear of their elected officials,” Aitken said. “And it shouldn’t matter what side of the argument you are, it should apply equally across the board.”

    The updated lobbying ordinance from city staff contained language that would require people employed in “government affairs” or “government relations” types of roles to be considered a lobbyist, but the council voted to ask staff to remove that part. They also asked to exclude labor unions advocating for labor contracts with the city from having to register as lobbyists. Other California cities include the exemption.

    Councilmembers Jose Diaz and Natalie Meeks were the most critical of the updated lobbying ordinance.

    “I don’t see why we need to change this,” Diaz said. “It’s too intrusive, too complicated.”

    Meeks said the whole direction of the ordinance bothered her. She said it was fraught with loopholes and complexity, and her preference was for requiring councilmembers to release calendars of who they are meeting with.

    Following the meeting, Aitken said she’s pleased that her colleagues have supported reform measures and said Anaheim is “on the cutting edge of having the most transparent form of government in Orange County, if not California.”

    “I think we came to a strong compromise that still addresses the root issue, which is making sure that everyone that interacts with elected officials is registering as lobbyists,” she said.

    Anaheim leaders aren’t done yet looking at new reform topics. There will be a future meeting about campaign finance reform, as well as a vote on prohibiting lobbyists from serving as advisers to any city official.

    The council also hasn’t received an update after the city attorney asked Visit Anaheim in August to give back $1.5 million it may have surreptitiously diverted to a nonprofit of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. The city gave Visit Anaheim that money to promote tourism recovery during the pandemic, and Visit Anaheim likely violated its agreement by diverting the funds, officials have said.

    Aitken said the state’s audit looking into the $1.5 million, which is expected to be released in the winter, could bring forward additional reforms.

    “I’m looking forward to the results,” Aitken said, “to see if there’s anything else that we need to look at and address that would put us in a stronger position to be more accountable to the voters.”

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    ​ Orange County Register