Legislature Passes Bill to Disclose Lobbying on State Contracts

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The state Capitol in Sacramento. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

A bill to shed greater light on how state government contracts are won in California passed the Legislature Monday. AB1200, by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Palo Alto, would require lobbyists communicating with officials on a contract worth more than $250,000 to register and report their activity.

"In 18 other states, there are laws on the book that require some kind of reporting around the lobbying that goes on around government contracts," said Assemblyman Gordon. "We don't have such a law in California, and we have $11 billion of government contracts by the state every year."

Amendment Exempts Some Lobbyists 

The bill sailed through the Assembly on a 69-0 concurrence vote after passing the Senate in March by 38-1. A major amendment to the bill exempted any lobbyists who are employed by the company they are lobbying for.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, said she heard concerns from salespeople in her district that they would have had to register as lobbyists.

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"When I brought the concern to the author, he immediately made sure that those regular outside business people were not considered lobbyists," she said.

But Gordon also acknowledged that the change would exempt larger businesses that employ their own lobbyists -- like AT&T or HP -- from having to follow disclosure rules.

"This gives us an incremental step to see how this works," Gordon said. "Part of our response was to make this something practical that the Fair Political Practices Commission could implement."

The FPPC opposes the bill, which according to a Senate analysis could cost the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

"This bill will not accomplish what the proponents are promising the public, FPPC Communications Director Jay Wierenga said in a statement. "Rather, it will increase the cost of doing business in California without any increase in meaningful disclosure."

In a March letter to Assemblyman Gordon, FPPC Chair Jodi Remke also expressed concern that the bill wouldn't provide info on communication that occurs before a government agency asks for proposals.

"Not only would it be difficult to determine when registration would trigger under the bill," Remke wrote. "Lobbyists are not required to report 'contacts' or any such information regarding specific communication with government agencies. Consequently, requiring registration would not achieve the stated goal."

Local Governments Already Regulate

Some local governments have already implemented requirements to disclose lobbying activity on contracts. Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, and Santa Clara counties have provisions in their lobbying ordinances that include the registration of lobbyists pushing for county contracts.

The disparity between county and state law was one of the reasons the bill was pursued by a group of students at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law, who brought the bill to Gordon.

"I'm very appreciative to the students at McGeorge because I think they brought to light something that will bring greater transparency to California," Gordon said.

The students will face the final test for their project on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. Despite the bill's bipartisan support in the Legislature, the governor might be swayed by opposition from FPPC Chair Remke, whom he appointed.

"I hope and trust that as someone who was involved in helping to work on the original legislation for the FPPC, that he would see that this is just good transparency for the public," Gordon said of the governor.