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Media Coverage
County Lobbyist Reform Plans Are Pushed Aside
February 1, 1998


Sunday, February 1, 1998
Section: West County
Page: A19
Ariel Ambruster
Caption: Martinez Bureau

MARTINEZ Contra Costa supervisors apparently have junked plans to adopt a lobbyist reform law, despite voting more than a year ago in favor of the idea.

Former Supervisor Gayle Bishop proposed the law in December 1996 in one of her last efforts before leaving office. At the time, her colleagues endorsed lobbyist regulation in concept and asked a board subcommittee to hold hearings on the issue.

The subcommittee never did, and its two members now say they are unenthusiastic about the law. It would have been similar to regulations in Richmond, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles that require lobbyists to report for whom they are working and how much money is being spent to lobby politicians.

Supervisor Jim Rogers, who headed the Internal Operations Committee last year, said he never scheduled the issue for debate because he had other priorities, including making changes to the county's campaign finance regulations.

Supervisor Donna Gerber, the other committee member, said she also had other priorities, such as limiting housing development in the San Ramon Valley region that she represents. "I've never even looked at it, frankly," she said of the lobbyist issue. "It didn't seem like something that we were hard-pressed to deal with. My sense, at the moment, is it's not an item the board itself is interested in, one way or another."

Rogers said disclosing lobbying efforts to the public would be a "moderately helpful, abstract good-government thing." But such a law would do nothing to change the power that well-monied interests have over politicians, he said.

"You don't interfere with the potential flow of money, or with what the lobbyist is doing," he said. "All you're doing is imposing a substantial cost to the lobbyist, and also imposing a substantial P.R. cost, because they get beat up in the press."

But Tom Butt, the Richmond councilman who persuaded his colleagues to adopt lobbying rules, said he believes such rules help strengthen democracy.

"The purpose of it is to create an informed electorate and an informed public. It's like campaign reporting it doesn't stop people from spending money. It just tells the public where the money is coming from, so they can see where power is located and who does what to whom."

For example, he said, the press was recently able to report that Wickland Oil Co. spent more than $50,000 during the last half of 1997 lobbying city leaders.

"We never had that kind of information before," he said. "What we had before was, Gee, I'm just a little mom-and-pop oil company doing business.' That's exactly the kind of thing it was meant to do, is inform the public about what's going on out there. If I need a conditional use permit, I can't afford to go out and spend $50,000 on lobbyists."

Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier of Concord, who spoke in favor of the idea in 1996, says he still supports a lobbyist law.

"I think it's a good idea. Other jurisdictions have done it. I see no reason why we wouldn't pursue it. If they don't bring it up," he said, referring to Rogers and Gerber, "I might bring it up again."

It's not clear whether DeSaulnier would get support from a majority of the five supervisors, however. Aside from Rogers' and Gerber's lack of interest, a third supervisor, Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg, voted against the idea in 1996.

Bishop could not be reached for comment. The former supervisor has been fighting a felony conviction for misappropriating funds, which cost her re-election in 1996.