City Hall will consider tougher rules for lobbyists serving on City boards and commissions after authorizing staff to pursue the topic at their July 13 meeting.

In the interest of “sunshine and transparency” for the City of Santa Monica, Councilmembers Christine Parra and Phil Brock proposed a new ban on lobbyists serving on boards or commissions.

Councilmembers Parra and Brock requested the City create a formal definition of a lobbyist or legislative activist and then bar individuals who meet this definition from serving on a board, commission, or task force within two years of being an advocate. This proposed ordinance would strengthen Santa Monica’s existing lobbying ordinance, which requires all paid lobbyists to disclose their work, clients, and compensation with the City.

“I and Councilmember Parra wish to make sure that the legislative happenings in our city are above and above reproach,” said Brock. “This is another way to make sure that the residents of the city have the right to influence our council and influence their boards and commissions, but people who were paid do not have that same right.”

The proposed ban on lobbyists serving in appointed roles was based on an ordinance already in place in Beverly Hills.

Mayor Himmelrich raised concerns that an ordinance akin to Beverly Hills’ may be too restrictive as it considers certain fundraising activities as acts of lobbying.

“As I read the Beverly Hills ordinance, I think it is a much larger net that could capture some of our advocates here who may raise money or do other things for various causes,” said Himmelrich. “Under the Beverly Hills ordinances, I saw people who raise $5,000 for a cause become lobbyists, even if they’re volunteers.”

Councilmember McCowan asked if the ordinance wording could perhaps be changed to exclude lobbyists from serving on a commission related to their lobbying activity, but still allow them to participate on a commission if its activities are unrelated to their work. She said that from her experience working with legislative advocates, they are often policy experts and could bring useful skills to the City, if there is no conflict of interest.

“I think there’s a way we could preclude them from being on a board or commission that’s within the subject matter jurisdiction of what they’re being paid for and not preclude them from any board or commission,” said McCowan. “They’re still residents, they still care about the city and I think they bring an expertise that might actually be beneficial to a commission.”

City Attorney George Cordona said that he heard the concerns raised in the discussion and that the staff report on the draft ordinance will outline some of the policy concerns for councilmembers to consider.

Clara@smdp.com