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Media Coverage
Richmond Business Leaders Rap Lobby Law
December 5, 1996



Thursday, December 5, 1996
Section: news
Page: A03

RICHMOND Business leaders are fighting a lobbying ordinance passed by the City Council last month, hoping to derail it when it comes up for a second and final vote Dec. 17.

The new law, which would require lobbyists to report their activities to the city, is cumbersome and unworkable, business leaders said.

"I'm opposed to any ordinance which discourages frequent discussions between the business community and city officials," said Craig Latimer, plant manager at Zeneca Inc.

Though the law would not prevent people from talking to each other, it would require an onerous reporting of how and when those communications take place, Latimer said.

Councilman Tom Butt, the law's main proponent, disagreed.

"There's this idea that people have to keep some extraordinarily detailed, meticulous record, and that's just not true," Butt said.

The intent of the law is to open the lobbying process to public view.

It would require any person or business hired to influence legislation, or any person who spends at least $3,000 in a calendar year for such purposes, to register with the City Clerk's Office.

Each quarter, those defined as lobbyists would have to give the city a list of how much they spent on behalf of clients, how much the clients paid them and who the clients were.

In the case of businesses whose employees lobby city officials for company projects, the company would have to calculate how much time those employees spent lobbying. They would have to compute the value of that time based on the employee's salary.

But the ordinance would not require companies to report employees' names, and would not require lobbyists or business people to keep a log of their contacts with city officials, Butt said.

In addition, a business would not be defined as a lobbyist unless its lobbying employees have at least 10 separate contacts with city officials to try to influence local law or administrative action within any two-month period.

Councilman Alex Evans surprised some business people by becoming the swing vote in favor of the ordinance on Nov. 19.

Since then, he said he has heard from a number of business and industry people "that I'm a dead man walking," Evans said Wednesday.

In response to questions and concerns from the business community, Evans said he is working with Butt to put together a presentation on the law.

He will try to schedule it for Dec. 13, Evans said. That's the day the council will hold a retreat at the Harbormaster Office building to discuss a proposed city reorganization.

But Evans said he is not likely to change his vote. "It's something I believe in very strongly the public's access to information," he said.

Both Zeneca's Latimer and Dennis Spaniol of the Council of Industries said they hoped the council would consider an alternative form of the law proposed by council members Irma Anderson and Lesa McIntosh.

That version would require lobbyists to register with the city. But they would have to report only their names and the names of their clients not the amount spent or the issues on which they are lobbying.

Councilwoman Donna Powers favors Butts' version of the law.

"It doesn't hurt for the public or the newspaper or anyone else to know who I'm talking to," she said. "No one's given me a good reason why we shouldn't do it."