Long Beach nonprofits, others tear down proposals that would require them to register as lobbyists — press cable


Residents display signs in the council chambers of Long Beach City Hall Wednesday, March 8, 2003 as the Long Beach Ethics Committee considers recommendations to change the city’s lobbying ordinance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

The Long Beach ethics committee will seek additional public input and continue to review its proposed changes to the city’s longstanding lobbying ordinance, the commission said during its meeting Wednesday, March 8, after dozens of local nonprofits and neighborhood organizations criticized the potential rule changes.

Long Beach’s Lobbying Regulations, in effect since 2010, require business, spending, and contract lobbyists — individuals and groups typically employed by wealthy advocacy organizations — to influence the outcome of legislative, legal, or other government decisions to improve their Activities to register with the city’s Citizens Advice Bureau.

But the rule has been under review by the city’s relatively newly formed ethics committee for about a year. The commission’s recently released proposed amendments, if approved unchanged, would completely redefine what Long Beach understands by lobbying — and would require nonprofits, neighborhood associations, and business improvement districts that have been exempt from the regulation since its inception to lobby to register with the city official.

The changes, if approved by the commission, would still require City Council approval to be adopted. At least four City Council members would need to sign off on an item to place it on an upcoming agenda.

About 30 representatives and members of local nonprofits and neighborhood associations in Long Beach showed up at the commission’s Wednesday afternoon meeting to voice their concerns about the changes to the ordinance — and the potential impact they would have on those groups’ ability to provide community service afford and interact with their chosen officials.

“Our purpose is to create a new definition of lobbying and require that nonprofits that advocate for the people they serve be included in what the city considers lobbying,” said Michelle Byerly , Executive Director of Long Beach-based nonprofit Partnership, in an interview. “When we work for the public good, we’re not doing what lobbyists usually do, which is standing up for private individuals who benefit.”

The ethics committee proposal specifically recommended removing the lobbying registration exemption for 501(c)3 nonprofits with annual operating budgets of $50,000 or more, neighborhood associations and business improvement districts — citing concerns about their relationships with elected officials and other city leaders could allow them to influence government decision-making.

“Sometimes the interests pursued by a nonprofit or neighborhood organization may differ from the interests of a portion of the community, the business community, or another portion of the city,” the report says. “This provides decision makers with a healthy background for reflection. All viewpoints should be subject to the sunlight of disclosure under the Regulation.”

Aside from being required to register as lobbyists, in the interests of transparency, these groups would also be required to keep records and publicly disclose all communications with city officials, the staff report said.

“We all agree that there can be more transparency,” Byerly said, “but charging these nonprofits we believe is a misguided attempt to pull out people who violate current lobbying policies.”

Nonprofit groups, particularly 501(c)3 groups, are already subject to strict state and federal regulations and reporting requirements — and are only allowed to use 20% of their total budget for lobbying purposes.

“We are limited in the amount of direct lobbying we can do as organizations,” James Suazo, executive director of the nonprofit Long Beach Forward, said during an interview. “That includes not only actual speaking time with decision makers, but also preparation time – and we need to report and follow up on a regular basis. It is included in the nonprofit 990s, which are tax forms that are publicly released.”

For Suazo, the ethics committee’s proposed changes to the ordinance would place an undue burden on nonprofits like LB Forward, which have been working to fill critical gaps in city services for marginalized and historically underserved communities.

“If our organization were visiting the homeless and we were trying to coordinate with what the city is doing, that would count against our time as lobbying and would meet our requirements to register as a lobbyist,” he said. “Not only does this add additional layers of reporting, it also expands the scope of what is being tracked – and we don’t have the capacity to keep up with all of these regulations.”

Business improvement districts — quasi-government agencies appointed by the city council to provide services in their respective council districts — would also be similarly affected. Because of their work, these groups are in near-constant contact with city officials—who often revolve around hosting community events or facilitating public works.

“Asking them to report or record all their communications with city employees and city officials — just to do day-to-day operations — is becoming too tedious,” DLBA President and CEO Austin Metoyer said during an interview Wednesday. “It’s just another layer of bureaucracy that will prevent them from actually performing their function.”

Neighborhood associations — often run by volunteer residents with minimal budgets — had particular concerns about their inclusion in the proposed lobbying ordinance change.

“We’re volunteers working on our free time and around town, and communication is often lacking,” said Julie Dean, president of the Belmont Shore Residents Association, during a public comment. “We’re still working to achieve the best possible outcome for our area — but requiring volunteers to record and document our preparation time, hours worked and interactions with city officials would be a burden, and it would also create more hurdles in getting responses from.” City staff and elected officials.”

The commission, meanwhile, said it was grateful for the public’s input – and asked its ad hoc committee to take full account of the feedback ahead of its next meeting. Once the full commission is in place, assistant city manager April Walker said Wednesday, the panel will have a more detailed discussion of the proposed changes, taking into account community feedback.

If the commission decides to make changes to the proposed amendment to the lobbying regulation, Walker said city officials will likely make additional contacts before making a final decision.

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