Capitol Alert

FPPC adds reporting rules for California lobbyists

Jodi Remke, chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, conducts business during a meeting on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 in Sacramento.
Jodi Remke, chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, conducts business during a meeting on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 in Sacramento. rpench@sacbee.com

The state’s political watchdog adopted a new lobbying rule Thursday intended to shine a spotlight on ex-lawmakers for hire who use their clout to influence legislation, powerful interest groups behind misleading advertising campaigns and activities currently concealed in a catch-all category of regulatory filings.

The Fair Political Practices Commission voted at its regular board meeting to require interest groups and lobbyists to break out and itemize expenses in the “other payments to influence” category in quarterly state reports. The category is meant to capture spending related to lobbying efforts.

The prior rules allowed groups to report the category – which includes payments for office heating bills as well as more influential spending on grass-roots campaigns – as a lump sum without details about where the money is spent.

Proponents of the change say it’s a long overdue update to regulations set forth in the 1970s and better adapts to 21st-century lobbying tactics. Today, the most influential interest groups in the state spend the bulk of their money on “other” category spending. The top 50 lobbyist employers reported 65.3 percent of a total $73.5 million in spending as “other payments to influence” in the first nine months of 2015, according to an analysis by The Sacramento Bee.

“Lobbying is largely a self-regulated industry, and in order to make sure people are playing by the rules, we need this type of information that shines a light on what’s going on,” said Jodi Remke, chair of the FPPC. The change will take effect on July 1.

Still, some question whether the new rules go far enough.

Carmen Balber, executive director of the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, said the FPPC’s attempts to plug one loophole have created another. Balber said an option to disclose payments as “public affairs” will allow a lobbyist employer to pay a third party to set up advertising and other services without having to explain where the money went.

The Western States Petroleum Association, a group that represents oil industry interests, spent 90.7 percent of $6.7 million in total lobbying payments in the “other” category from July to October of last year.

Thus far, the lobbying industry has remained relatively quiet about the change.

The Western States Petroleum Association, a group that represents oil industry interests, spent 90.7 percent of $6.7 million in total lobbying payments in the “other” category from July to October of last year.

“WSPA does not believe changes to reporting rules would alter our efforts to defend the interests of the men and women of the petroleum industry,” said WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, in a statement to The Bee.

Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said he believes many in the industry are still trying to wrap their heads around the rules.

“I’m pretty sure that most people who are engaged in the business don’t know what the new regulations require, and even if you do, you don’t understand them,” he said Thursday.

“We’re going to do what we have to do to comply. Is it helpful? I have no idea. Is it something that is a burden without an appropriate benefit? I don’t know the answer to that either.”

Representatives from California Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of California and the California Newspaper Publishers Association spoke in support of the change at the meeting. Diane Fishburn, a lawyer at Olson, Hagel & Fishburn firm in Sacramento, was the only member of the public to speak out against the new rules.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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