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Council to consider lobbying ethics reforms next week


CITY OF PORTLAND - Commission Nick FishCommissioner Nick Fish and City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero are teaming up to expand and strengthen Portland's lobbying disclosure requirements.

Fish wants to add a new category of political consultants to those who must register with the city and disclose their contacts with city officials.

"Political consultants have unlimited access to the elected officials they've work for, and I want to shine a light on who they are and what they are doing that could influence public policy," says Fish.

Caballero wants to increase the information that must be reported, increase the time that former officials and employees must wait before lobbying the city, and increase the penalties for violations.

The proposals will be heard by the City Council at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13.

The proposals follow revelations that local political consultant Mark Wiener organized an unpublicized December 2014 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 rider-sharing company to do business in the city on a 3-to-2 council vote, with Commissioner Dan Saltzman joining Hales and Novick to allow it.

Wiener subsequently registered as a lobbyist for Uber but insisted he was not working for the company at the time of the meeting. Caballero did not accept that explanation and fined Uber $2,000 for four violations related to not registering Wiener as a lobbyist by the meeting. Uber paid the fine in February.

Caballero also issued letters to Hales and Novick saying they violated city rules by omitting the meeting from their public calendars. In the letters, she said the violations could result in a $500 civil penalty, but waived them "because this appears to be a first-time violation and your office otherwise keeps an open accessible calendar with detailed archival information available to the public."

Fish says the Wiener incident inspired him to want to expand the registration requirement to include campaign consultants. His research revealed that San Francisco is the only other city already requires campaign consultants to register with the city and disclose their activities.

"I expect this to pass 5-to-0 and Portland to become the second city in the country with this requirment," says Fish.

Under the ordinance submitted by Fish, only political consultants working for elected officials will be required to register and disclose their contacts. Consultants working for city candidates who have not yet be elected to office will not.

The ordinance submitted by Fish defines political consultant as a person or entity providing political consulting services to city elected officials or successful candidates in a city election. Such services may include "actions in campaign management and political strategy services, including but not limited to: advocacy and strategy; political polling; advising or assisting in voter contact strategies and services; advising in media strategy, buying and advertisement; providing candidate development, policy training, political image consulting, and designing, implementing and analyzing polls and surveys; performing issues research and opposition research; developing, assisting in strategic communication such as news releases, talking points and speech writing; and advising on negative information handling and political crisis management. This Chapter does not regulate the content and viewpoint of the services provided to a City elected official."

Fish drafted his proposals over the past few months after consulting Oregon Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, the Alliance for Democracy, and Represent Us Oregon, the state chapter of a national anti-corruption organization. Representatives from some of the organizations are expected to testify in support of the proposals at Wednesday's hearings.

The auditor's office says their changes are not related to any single incident, but are long overdue updates of the registration program first approved by the council in 2005 and not revisited since 2007.

At the present time, a person or organization must register as a lobbyist if they spend more than eight hours a quarter lobbying city officials. Violations are subject to $500 fines. Former city employees are also prohibited from lobbying — for money or other considerations — any city official on a matter they were “personally and substantially” involved in for one year following their end of their employment.

The auditor's office is proposing the following changes:

• Lobbying entities would also have to register and report activities for any quarter when they spend at least $1,000 on lobbying activities. This change is intended to capture a more accurate picture of lobbying activity that occurs at the same level using different resources. The change will also balance the administrative burden on civic, nonprofit, and other organizations that may spend significant time lobbying through the use of volunteers, but expend less financial resources doing so.

• Increase penalties for repeated violations up to $3,000 per violation, at the discretion of the auditor.

• Expand the prohibition against former city employees lobbying city officials to practically anything they worked on and extend the length to two years. The restrictions would apply to elected officials and their at-will staff, bureau directors, and members of some boards and commissions.

Fish's proposal can be read at www.portlandoregon.gov/auditor/article/572082

The auditor's proposal can be read at www.portlandoregon.gov/auditor/article/572081