Lobbyists – Step Back from the Ethics Commission’s
Proposed Stimulus Package

Written by Joe Lynn (RIP). Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on April 07, 2009 with 2 Comments

By Joe Lynn

Editor’s Note: While the City and County of San Francisco faces an unprecedented $576 million budget crisis, Ethics Commission staff have submitted a budget for FY 09/10 that includes $32,000 in cuts to lobbyist fees.

April 7, 2009

Hey You! Yes, I mean you lobbyists. How many times have you walked into the office of a city official to say “Have I got a deal for you?”

I don’t mean those kinds of deals. We would never, ever talk about those kinds of deals. That’s just not what we do.

No, we mean the kind of deal where you explain in words of no more than two syllables why casting a vote for your clients’ interests would make San Francisco a better city.

We know you’re good at it. Last year, your clients broke the record for paying you lobbyists to walk into City Hall on their behalf. Not since lobbyists began reporting how much they’re paid has so much money changed hands. And we all know that’s just the tip of the iceberg, don’t we? Because we’ve crafted all kinds of loopholes for you that you can drive a Brinks truck through by writing the law so that you don’t have to tell the public everything you’re doing – or paid to do. How great is that?

I mean, when was the last time you had to report most of what you do? Better yet, when was the last time someone from Ethics asked you questions about your reports? Ummmm, never? And when was the last time the folks at Ethics put out a press release that actually told the public things like the top five issues lobbied at City Hall, or even what the outcome was on any issue you pitched at City Hall? Right! Never!

So how much are you willing to pay for that kind of service? We know, staff thinks it would be a good idea to cut your fees. We’re not certain what they’re really thinking, or maybe whether you’re doing their thinking for them because, after all, fees are being raised for everyone else in the city.

Reserve a playground? Fees are up. Park at a meter? Fees are up? Put new windows in your house because you’re so green? Fees are up. Get a massage parlor permit? Fees are up – though we’re wondering if a massage parlor permit shouldn’t really qualify as a kind of lobbying. Admittedly, this may sound a little clumsy since I’m not as good at this log-rolling, scratch-my-back, quid pro quo, and everybody’s a winner thing. So forgive my bluntness.

Why not just keep paying last year’s fees? Sure, the books will show a new, lower fee, but you’ll still pay yesterday’s fees. Here’s how you can turn that into a little money-maker on the side. Report the difference as a gift to the city! Wow! Free media (I guess you call it “earned media” in your business, since your good works “earned” the news coverage). That’s hot stuff on the 11:00 pm news. And you’re guaranteed to get attention because each quarter your gift will have to be reported in the minutes of the Board of Supervisors, and tallied up.

And there’s more! You can write it off as a charitable contribution on your company taxes, just like you do when you pick up tickets for your chosen city official to sit at a table of his or her favorite charity dinner. Hey, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

So, what do you think? Ready to go for it?

Wait a minute, one more thing: You can make yourself look good, noble and actually doing something for the city in hard times and make your competitors look bad at the same time!

Because, if you’ll publicly sign this pledge to pay last year’s fees, everyone will immediately see who are the good guys. And we’ll make it easy to match up who the bad guys are by releasing a list – just like the Sunshine Ordinance requires – of all those who were sent the request letter.

What could be simpler? You get the bouquets, they get the brickbats.

Joe Lynn (RIP)

BIO Joe Lynn was the campaign finance and budget officer of the San Francisco Ethics Commission from 1998 to 2003. From 2003 to 2006, he served as one of the five Ethics Commissioners. The Bay Guardian called him “a leading voice for reform,” and the San Francisco Examiner called him “the backbone of the Ethics Commission.” While a staff member on the Ethics Commission, he received numerous awards and has been a speaker at many conferences on Good Government. He maintains an active interest in good government laws.

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Comments for Lobbyists – Step Back from the Ethics Commission’s
Proposed Stimulus Package
are now closed.

  1. Mr. Palindrome,

    What does that have to do with whether lobbyist fees should be cut next year to historic lows?

    Joe Lynn

  2. “Professional lobbyists know their territory. They make very efficient use of their client’s time. They can find out where your problem lies, who to talk to, and what questions to ask. They can tell you what information you need to have, and what questions you will have to answer. You will find out who you have to convince and why. Essentially, they guide you through the jungle of government and public opinion.”

    Honourable John Reid, The Question of Lobbying