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I just finished reading a masterpiece of a novel about Nuoro, a town in Sardinia:  Salvatore Satta's The Day of Judgment, translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh. It's a very wise, witty, and sad novel. Here are a few pearls of wisdom that shed light on local government ethics.

A must-read for lobbying reformers! A series of fascinating amendments that were made to New York City's lobbying law last December will take effect this month. There are some reforms here that I've never seen anywhere else, and they raise some issues that need to be more widely discussed.

The amendments, made in Local Law 129 (attached; see below), are based on recommendations made by a special reform task force, the NYC Lobbying Commission, established by the mayor and council to examine the lobbying law, hold hearings on it (reading the transcripts is instructive), and report on ways in which it could be improved. It's worth noting that the task force had five members and six staff.

You're a government official who has had an ethics complaint filed against you. You want it go away. What do you do? According to an article in The Missoulian this weekend, there may be a new arrow in your quiver:  file a court suit demanding dismissal of the complaint on the grounds of a conspiracy to remove you from office and to act in a biased manner toward conservative officials.

Since the Montana case involves a court proceeding brought by the state Political Practices Commissioner, the respondent — the state senate majority leader — didn't have to file a suit. All he had to do was file a counterclaim.

It's questionable whether a contractor, developer, grantee, or other individual or entity that seeks special benefits from a local government should be permitted to make sizeable campaign contributions to candidates for positions in the local government. But if they are not permitted to make such contributions directly, they should not be permitted to make them indirectly, either.

According to an article today on the KPBS website, development companies and other real estate interests found a way to support the incumbent San Diego county supervisor's campaign without declaring, in the speech that was purchased with their money, that they were providing the support. They did this by contributing $100,000 to the county deputy sheriffs association PAC, which in turn funded flyers for the supervisor candidate. The flyers told citizens that they were paid for by the county deputy sheriffs association, with no mention of the developers.

This is the second post on Alan Rosenthal's The Third House: Lobbyists and Lobbying in the States (CQ Press, 1993). This post focuses on the importance of connections over influence, the role of money and constituents in local lobbying, and local lobbyists as relatively unprofessional, and what that means for lobbying regulation.

Because there are fewer professional lobbyists at the local level, the contract lobbyists who are successful locally sometimes become power brokers. These individuals can best represent their clients by being in a position to pull a lot of strings. They can get into this position through their involvement in the majority political party, through the services they provide to officials, through their involvement in and financial support (directly and through clients) of political campaigns, and through the personal relationships they form.

Rosenthal notes that the professionalization of lobbying has made full-time lobbyists more open to regulation, because they want to be seen as professional. They also know that it is better for them to have clear lines drawn so that they don't find themselves embroiled in scandals. In addition, limitations on giving save them money.

Local lobbyists are less likely to be full-time or have a professional identity. Therefore, they are less likely to support lobbying regulations than their state and federal equivalents. This is clearly one reason why there are so few local lobbying codes, and why those that exist do not appear to have been very professionally drafted (that is, their drafters do not seem to have looked at the better local lobbying codes).

An Oakland Ethics Reform Proposal
According to an article this week in the Mercury News, an Oakland, CA council member has proposed to more than triple the city ethics commission's staff, expand its oversight powers to include campaign finance and lobbying (currently handled by the city clerk), have its executive director report to the commission, and allow the commission to seek independent legal advice and to impose fines. The commission's decisions would be appealable only to a court. The additional funds might come partially from fees on local campaign committees. A copy of the proposal is attached; see below.

One of the exciting things about this proposal is that it was drafted by a Working Group of individuals in the community with ethics and other good government experience. The members include the program director of a campaign finance research organization, the co-chair of a local clean money group, the president of the local League of Women Voters, a past chair of the Oakland EC, a voting rights advocate, and a couple of board members of California Common Cause. It is a great and unusual thing to get so many people who are knowledgeable about and focused on these issues to work on such a proposal. The group even says that it used my free e-book Local Government Ethics Programs as a resource in its work.