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Proposed ethics rules at City Hall deserve council's support


When people express anger with government — as supporters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are so famously doing this year — their frustration often can be traced to a feeling that the game is rigged.

They believe they don’t have the same access to power that the privileged few can attain — that too many deals are being cut among cronies, far from the view of ordinary citizens.

This wary sentiment among the public gives a heightened relevance to an otherwise small set of proposed reforms coming before the Portland City Council on Wednesday, April 13. Commissioner Nick Fish and City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero have teamed up to shine a brighter light on the activities of political consultants, lobbyists and the politicians those two groups seek to influence.

The proposal from Fish in particular had its genesis in an Uber-related controversy last year. As first reported by Willamette Week, political consultant Mark Wiener organized an unpublicized meeting between representatives of Uber and two of his former clients, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick. The meeting helped clear the way for the City Council to allow the ride-sharing company to do business in Portland.

As it turned out, Wiener also had agreed to do work for Uber about that time. So, in effect, he was lobbying two of his former clients (Hales and Novick) on behalf of a new or potential client (Uber). The ride-sharing company eventually was fined $2,000 by the auditor because it had not registered Wiener as a lobbyist.

Fish’s proposed ordinance takes aim at the Uber/Wiener example by requiring campaign consultants who are working with elected city officials to register with the city and disclose their contacts with those officials. Under current city ordinances, lobbyists — but not campaign consultants — are required to register and report certain activities to the city.

Adding consultants to the disclosure laws won’t prevent someone like Wiener from schmoozing two of his clients on behalf of another client, but it would mandate that those relationships and behind-the-scenes conversations be made visible to the public. That’s a step in the right direction.

Hull Caballero’s suggested rules also make good sense. The most important, in our minds, is her proposal to keep former city employees from lobbying city officials for two years after they leave their jobs. This is double the current one-year prohibition.

Hull Caballero also proposes a tighter definition for what is considered a lobbyist, and higher fines for people who repeatedly violate the rules.

All of these tweaks to the city’s ethics rules will serve the public interest. You don’t have to be a Trump or Sanders supporter to realize that cronyism is alive and well in politics, from Capitol Hill and the Oregon statehouse and into City Hall as well.

Portland, however, should aspire to a higher level of transparency, and the entire City Council should support these reforms on Wednesday.