Should lobbyists receive a label?

Lobbyists looking to influence City Hall decision-making could wind up sticking out in the crowd under a proposal by one city legislator that would require special-interest representatives to wear identification badges when making contact with elected and city officials — even at events outside the building.

Supervisor Chris Daly, who introduced the legislation, told The Examiner on Friday that it would add “transparency” to government and called it “very San Francisco.”

The badge would serve as a reminder to “decision-makers” that the lobbyist is representing a client “who has interests,” he said.

Reported money spent on lobbying efforts is on the rise in San Francisco. In 1996, $2.7 million was spent on lobbying efforts by those required to report spending; last year, $7.1 million was spent on lobbying efforts, according to reports by The City’s Ethics Commission.

Among clients lobbyists are representing are labor unions, developers with projects proposed for the Port and those before the Planning Commission, companies with contracts before the Board of Supervisors, hospitals and billboard companies, according to lobbyist filings with The City.

“I don’t have a problem with [the proposal]. I don’t have a problem with what I do. It might be a great marketing tool,” said registered lobbyist Sam Lauter with Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners, which represents the Academy of Art University.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd was skeptical about the proposal.

“Does giving them a Scarlet L truly achieve something? I’m not sure,” Elsbernd said.

Only those who earn $3,200 in any consecutive three months for lobbying services or who has at least 25 separate contacts with city officials during any two months must register and report spending with the Ethics Commission, under the city’s lobbyist ordinance.

In April, when the Ethics Commission is expected to discuss Daly’s legislation, it will also consider lowering the threshold for having to report lobbying activity, said John St. Croix, the commission’s executive director. The proposed changes are in response to concerns that there are paid workers representing special interests who are not registering as lobbyists because they don’t technically meet the current criteria for the label.

“The citizens have a right to know who is being paid to influence governmental decisions,” St. Croix said.

Political analysts questioned the intent of the badge-proposal and said it raises legal issues.

“You can’t make people have to dress a certain way or look a certain way to address their views,” political analyst David Latterman said. Corey Cook, political science professor at University of San Francisco, said that lobbyists are often looked upon unfavorably, but that they are “integral” to the government process.

“For somebody who thinks lobbyists aren’t all evil, that seems a little bit over the top,” he said of Daly’s legislation.

jsabatini@examiner.com  

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