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Media Coverage
Richmond Lobbying Ordinance Burdens Business
February 1, 1997


Saturday, February 1, 1997
Section: Opinion
Page: A21
Column: Editorials 

In response to the Times editorial, "Lobby rules aren't burden" (Jan. 19), we would like to clarify our position of opposition. 

When the ordinance was initially proposed, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, through its Government Affairs Committee, reviewed it and found problems with certain parts, specifically the need for many Richmond businesses to monitor and record the activities of its employees whose duties include frequent contacts with city officials and staff. 

Councilman Tom Butt, who originally proposed the ordinance, agreed to meet with the chamber. During the official review process, some changes were made. The chamber remained concerned about burdensome reporting requirements and the loosely defined enforcement procedures. 

In early January, council members Butt and Alex Evans were invited again to meet with the chamber's committee. We appreciate the councilmen's position, but we remain convinced the ordinance contains serious flaws. 

The chamber strongly supports the concept of "the people's right to know." Keeping the public informed is one of our basic goals. Another goal, however, is to encourage efficient and effective city government that does not hinder the ability of the business community. 

We believe the proponents of the ordinance desire to bring the "back-room" activities of a few independent lobbyists out into the fresh air for the public to see. We consider this appropriate and noble. Unfortunately, we believe the ordinance will not achieve its purpose without imposing unnecessary burdens on many non-targeted businesses. 

Registering as a lobbyist or reporting the expenditure of $50 or more at a meeting with a city official to influence legislation is not the main basis of our opposition. The chamber has no concerns nor feels any "embarrassment" about registering as a lobbyist. The real concern is this: 

To conduct business, companies must have employees advocating issues that will be beneficial to the smooth operation of the company or industry. It is not unusual for several employees of a local company to contact city officials or staff on a daily basis, far in excess of the 10 contacts per two-month period stipulated by the ordinance. 

This ordinance requires all legitimate businesses (not just the "back-room boys") to document the time of one, two, three or even more bona fide employees' phone calls, meetings, letters and reports made to or with city officials or staff. Each of these activities would be defined as a "contact." if it involved requesting consideration to expedite the processing of approvals for a company project, or to reconsider a proposal that would impact the ability to conduct business in Richmond. These contacts must be reported to the city clerk on a quarterly basis. 

This monitoring and reporting is what we consider to be unnecessary and burdensome. All business these days is extremely competitive, and extra time and effort to monitor and report the activities places our local businesses at a disadvantage. 

Ziesenhenne is the chairman of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Brafford is the chair and King the vice chair of the chamber's Government Affairs Committee.