Yes on C

October 23rd, 2015 No Comments »


Prop C aims to close a loophole in political disclosure requirements for “expenditure lobbyists,” entities that spend money to influence others to lobby on their behalf. This loophole opened in 2009, with the only explanation given that it was placing an undue burden on the Ethics Commission to audit it. The result was phenomena such as Airbnb’s hiring of consulting firm 50+1 Strategies to create “grassroots” support for legalizing short-term rentals, and the rise of “renter” organizations like SFBARF, that provide astroturf for developers, all with little to no trackability.

Prop C would make any person or organization spending more than $2500 in a month on such lobbying subject to the city’s standard regulations for contact (“normal”) lobbyists, essentially a $500 annual filing fee (waived for nonprofits) and a monthly activity report. Money spent on an organization’s communications with membership is exempted.

$2500 per month seems like a ridiculously high threshold; nevertheless, a lot of nonprofits seem to be having a real problem with it. SPUR’s Gabriel Metcalf and CCHO Director Peter Cohen say that:

Prop. C would redefine any person or any group that spends money to educate or engage the public on city policies — be it community outreach, media, research or reporting — as an expenditure lobbyist.

Well, hardly. First of all, they would have to spend over $2500 in a month doing said things with the expressed goal of getting people to lobby in some form. And then, by apparently uttering the magic words “please contact your supervisor,” or “please attend the Land Use meeting” (petitions are exempted from the legislation) they would become expenditure lobbyists? Is that what happened prior to 2009, when the same rules were still in place? Is it what happens in San Diego, where similar legislation is now in place?

Moreover, section 2.106(b)(16) specifically exempts “an officer or employee of a nonprofit organization . . . speaking on behalf of that organization” from being regulated activity at all.

Even if an organization were to land in the peculiar hell of being considered an expenditure lobbyist, the punishment is hardly onerous. Monthly reporting requirements comprise A) the local legislative or administrative action the lobbyist sought to influence, B) total amount of dollars spent to indirectly influence it, C) all payments over $1000, and D) any campaign contributions made. Stick it in a Word document and modify it slightly each month. Again, there is no lobbyist fee for nonprofits.

Last year we saw what abominable actors the “good guys” can be when the unions killed the California DISCLOSE Act for no discernible reason other than to show off their power. When the city’s direct lobbying rules were rewritten a few years ago, the nonprofits managed to get themselves exempted altogether, with the result that now the American Legislative Exchange Council and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads can do all the direct lobbying they want entirely disclosure-free, since they are both nonprofits.

All because, apparently, saints don’t like having to follow the rules that everyone else has to follow. Vote YES on C.

— Jeff Whittington

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