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‘Hello My Name Is Lobbyist’

-As first reported by The Beverly Hills Courier On July 24

“You should vote for this proposal because it’s really the best thing for residents. It’s a win-win.”

If you have ever watched a City Council meeting, you’ve heard this sentence before. Over and over people approach the dais advocating on behalf of an issue facing the City Council.

Rarely do you hear, “I am being paid to tell you that you should vote for this proposal. I am a paid lobbyist who thinks it’s a win-win for your City.”

No, usually lobbyists don’t disclose their profession when speaking on behalf of an issue.

But now they won’t really have a choice.

Clipped to their shirts or suit jackets will be a badge, “Hello My Name is Mary Jones, and I am a registered lobbyist, ” because of  a 4-1 vote by the City Council on Tuesday approving a new ordinance requiring legislative advocates (who are paid or receiving gifts) to wear i.d. badges.

The ordinance states a legislative advocate shall wear a badge issued by the City identifying his or her status as a legislative advocate at all times during which he or she is engaged in legislative advocacy at City Hall. The badge shall be worn that is clearly visible.

The person required to obtain the badge must do so after they register with the City Clerk, and must obtain the badge before doing legislation activity at City Hall. Fines of up to $500 will be issued if the lobbyist fails to comply.

The requirement is not for City Councilmembers who annually receive a list of  registered lobbyists from the City Clerk’s office, rather it’s for the residents sitting in the audience or watching on television.

 “We’ve had times when people are not sure if someone addressing the council is speaking as a resident of the City or as a paid advocate,” said the Councilman who proposed the item John Mirisch.

Mirisch’s colleague Barry Brucker pointed out there was a lot of confusion amongst residents when the last major development project came before the council.

“There was a resident who was a paid lobbyist reading letters from her neighbors supporting the project,” said Brucker. “No one knew if she was speaking as a resident or a paid lobbyist.”

Those residents who opposed the development project appeared at Tuesday’s Council meeting to support the new ordinance.

“It is in the best interest of the City and the residents to require lobbyists to wear badges,” said Larry Larson, an active member of various campaigns opposing development in Beverly Hills.

But lobbyists don’t share the same feeling. Harvey Englander of Englander & Associates stated after the meeting, “It’s a sad day for freedom of speech.” Englander has come before both the City Council and the Planning Commission on behalf of development projects.

Some state that being forced to wear a badge is like being branded with the Scarlet L”- putting them in a class of second-class citizens.

Mirisch said he doesn’t accept that fact. “It is only shameful if what the person is going is shameful.”

But Councilman Dr. William Brien, chief of staff at Cedars-Sinai sided on behalf of the lobbyists, arguing that the new ordinance would require he wear a badge when lobbying on behalf of Beverly Hills at various regional and state meetings or when lobbying on behalf of new health initiatives in his role at Cedars-Sinai.

 “I vote on what I believe is in  the best interest of the community. I do not need people to wear badges so I make the right decision. I do not believe it is needed.”

The cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Providence have all voted down the same proposal. The only other municipality with the program is Henderson, Nev.

However, states including Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all similar programs, according to Cheryl Friedling, deputy city manager for public affairs.

ahood@bhcourier.com

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