Changes Ahead for Lobbyists in Beverly Hills

The Beverly Hills ordinance that regulates how lobbyists (known as legislative advocates) influence local legislation may soon be revised. The city’s Sunshine Task Force, which works to improve transparency and public involvement in local government operations, has agreed with members of the legislative advocate community that some details within the current regulations need an update.

An ad hoc committee has been formed within the Sunshine Task Force to write the revised draft of the legislative advocacy ordinance.

“I do know that it needs to be defined and clarified because it’s very broad. It encompasses a lot of different entities and potential misinformation,” Beverly Hills real estate attorney Murray Fischer told the Courier. Fischer serves on the ad hoc committee.

He is also one of about 250 people who have registered as legislative advocates with the city since 2014, many of whom are registered as advocates on several issues each year.

Chief among the details to be ironed-out is the requirement for client contact information. Currently, advocates must include client contact information on the city’s legislative advocate registration form. All registration forms are made publicly accessible online under the current ordinance, which some advocates have said is a potential risk to their clients, especially those in the public eye.

The committee will also review the current language around penalties that lobbyists may face if they provide false information on the registration form. These penalties can include a fine of $500. A penalty may also include suspension from operating as a legislative advocate within the city, which can mean a loss of business for some. Suspensions start at six months and may go up to a four-year suspension for more than two violations.

“Transparency is an important part of the update, but we want to make sure that any updates are not overly onerous on the legislative advocate community,” Beverly Hills Public Information Coordinator Lauren Santillana told the Courier in an email statement.

The definition of “legislative advocate” in the ordinance may also see an update in the future draft which is expected to take at least a few months, according to city staff.

“I never considered myself to be a lobbyist,” said Fischer who has been an attorney in the city for almost 50 years. “I always considered myself to be an attorney that presents facts, and works with consultants to present facts, so that the hearing body can make their own decision as to whether or not they can make the findings in order to approve a project. However, a couple years ago, the Sunshine Task Force determined that anybody advocating on behalf of their clients–whether it be an architect, whether it be a consultant or an attorney–was considered to be a quote-unquote lobbyist and legislative advocate.”

The committee held its first workshop meeting Jan. 11. Beverly Hills attorney Spencer Kallick and former Beverly Hills Mayor and attorney Thomas Levyn will serve alongside Fischer on the committee.

It is early in the process, so changes that will appear in the draft are still being worked out, but the committee is so far focused on more precisely defining the rules in the ordinance to improve fairness and clarity.

Lobbyists on the national political front are known for advocating for special interest groups in Congress, but they also lobby the legislature on behalf of individuals, businesses and other types of organizations. Here in Beverly Hills, they are often seen and heard offering public comment on their clients’ behalf at City Council and Commission hearings. These lobbying efforts are often narrowly tailored to specific city action items and permit applications.

The city saw more than 150 legislative advocate registrations on various city issues in 2021. Registrations in recent weeks include advocacy regarding the upcoming Cheval Blanc hotel construction, advocacy to obtain approval to build a wall at a construction site on Linden Drive, and a permit application for a fashion popup on Rodeo Drive.

The City of Beverly Hills itself also works with legislative advocates to influence Federal, State and County legislation. The City Council Legislative Advocacy Liaison Committee met Jan. 10 to review the city’s 2022 Legislative Platform. This platform embodies key legislative themes and priorities for the city each year and determines how city-contracted lobbyists focus their efforts.

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