Make Oakland Better Now! Opposes Proposed Changes to Lobbyist Ordinance

Update — the proposal discussed in this post has been withdrawn from the City Council Agenda for next week.  MOBN! will keep members updated on future developments.

On Tuesday, May 3, at or soon after 6:30 p.m., the Oakland City Council will be considering revisions to Oakland’s lobbyist registration and reporting ordinance that will effectively eliminate registration and reporting by in-house lobbyists for corporations and unions.  These changes would move Oakland a major step away from government transparency and would allow paid employees of corporations, unions and other organizations to exert influence on Oakland city government in the shadows.

A description of the proposed changes appears in Council Member Brunner’s memo  here.  Many of the problems with the proposal, and a reasonable alternative, can be found in Council Member and former MOBN! board member Libby  Schaaf’s memo here.

The problem is this:  Like most major  California cities, Oakland requires both in-house and contract lobbyists to register with the City, and to report their non-public contacts with city officials.  Lobbying is a perfectly appropriate activity, but it often constitutes the use of money (whether by paid to outside lobbyists or to salaried in-house lobbyists) to influence City policy.  Registration and reporting requirements are designed to ensure that the public knows who is spending the money and where.

Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission recommended some modifications to the ordinance, some of which were intended to clarify exactly who was a lobbyist.  Specifically, the Commission recommended that for the employee of a corporation or other organization to be deemed a lobbyist, influencing City decisions must be part of the employee’s “regular” job duties, meaning that

such activity is specified in or inferred from that individual’s job title or description, or if that individual influences two or more items of proposed or pending governmental actions within a consecutive six-month period.

Council Member Brunner, however, proposed a far narrower definition of in-house lobbyist, providing that a company or organization employee would be deemed a lobbyist only if he or she

spends one-third or more of the time, in any calendar month, for which he or she receives compensation from his or her employer, engaging in direct communication, other than administrative testimony, with a public officer or designated employee for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative action only on behalf of his or her employer.

We have been told that there are no in-house lobbyists who spend that much time lobbying Oakland officials.  So the effect of the proposal is to eliminate any registration or reporting requirements for employees of corporations, unions or other organizations who are paid to influence City policy.

MOBN! strongly supports government transparency, and believes transparency is a prerequisite of good government.  We will be at the the city council meeting on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. to urge council members to reject this step backward.  If you can join us Tuesday night, please e-mail us at;  we’ll contact you to coordinate our activities and presentation.

League of Women Voters of Oakland has put out a call to its membership urging them to contact their City Council representatives urging them to vote “no.”   We urge MOBN! members to do the same.  Our letter to City Council appears right after the jump.  Council member contact information is here:


Council District 1 – Jane Brunner
Phone: (510) 238-7001
Fax: (510) 238-6910

Council District 2 – Patricia Kernighan

Phone: (510) 238-7002
Fax: (510) 238-6910

Council District 3 – Nancy Nadel

Phone: (510) 238-7003
Fax: (510) 238-6910

Council District 4 – Libby Schaaf

Phone: (510) 238-7004
Fax: (510) 238-6910

Council District 5 – Ignacio De La Fuente
Phone: (510) 238-7001
Fax: (510) 238-6910

Council District 6 – Desley Brooks
Phone: (510) 238-7006
Fax: (510) 238-6910

Council District 7 – Larry Reid (Council President)

Phone: (510) 238-7007
Fax: (510) 238-6910

Council member At Large – Rebecca Kaplan

Phone: (510) 238-7008
Fax: (510) 238-6910

Our letter to the City Council:

Larry Reid, President
Oakland City Council
City Council Members Pat Kernighan, Nancy
Nadel, Jane Brunner, Ignacio de la Fuente,
Desley Brooks, Libby Schaaf,
Rebecca Kaplan
Oakland City Hall
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, 2nd Floor
Oakland, CA 94612

Re:  Proposed Amendments to Lobbyist Registration and Reporting   Ordinance

Dear President Reid and members of the City Council:

Make Oakland Better Now! is a citizens advocacy group dedicated to improving public safety, public works, the budget process and city government transparency.  I am writing on behalf of the board members of Make Oakland Better Now! to express our deep concern about the proposed changes to Oakland’s lobbyist registration ordinance coming before the city council next week.  We believe the proposal turns Oakland away from transparency at a time when transparency is most important.

We agree that the current ordinance is vague and needs to be revised.  But the lobbyist registration ordinance should ensure that light is shown brightly on the influence of money in city government.  The proposal recommended by your Rules and Legislation Committee and up for consideration on Tuesday does exactly the opposite.  The proposal substantially increases the number of people who can, for pay, exert influence in secret.

As each of you knows, the proposed revision exempts from the ordinance’s reach any in-house lobbyist who devotes less than 1/3 of his or her time to lobbying city officials.  During the time the revisions have been under discussion, we have not heard anyone contend that there is a single in-house lobbyist who meets this threshold.  Thus, the actual effect of the proposal is to eliminate all registration and reporting requirements for paid in-house lobbyists of corporations, unions and other organizations.

In recent years, Oakland citizens and city employees have been asked to make tremendous sacrifices.  Soon, they will be asked to sacrifice more.  Transparency is the first requirement of good government, and it is in difficult times like these that transparency matters most.

We believe that transparency empowers both citizens and elected officials by creating a political environment where all involved know that hard decisions are being made in an environment that is fair and open.  For this reason, Make Oakland Better Now! intends to substantially increase its vigilance and its advocacy on transparency issues in the months ahead, beginning with this issue.

We strongly urge you to join with us, the League of Women Voters, the East Bay Young Democrats and other good government groups and advocates for fair and open city government by rejecting proposals such as this one. We urge you to return the matter to the Public Ethics Commission for further work, with instructions that any changes to Oakland’s lobbyist registration and reporting ordinance must increase, not decrease, public knowledge about the influence of money on Oakland city government.

Thank you for your attention and consideration.

Make Oakland Better Now!

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

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