By DANIEL TAUB
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer had been in office less than a week when he got a call from a prominent City Hall lobbyist.
The lobbyist offered to raise money for the new councilman's officeholder account an account some City Council members use for perks like Hollywood Bowl tickets and costly dinners.
"Well, the answer was no," said Feuer, who declined to identify the lobbyist. "But why were they calling?"
To Feuer, the ability of lobbyists to raise funds for elected officials creates the potential for undue influence at City Hall.
Lobbyists were barred from raising funds for both state and local elected officials by 1996's Proposition 208.
But a federal judge earlier this month voided Proposition 208, saying that the measure was unconstitutional because it infringes on a candidate's ability to reach voters.
In his ruling, however, U.S. District Chief Judge Lawrence K. Karlton said parts of the measure may be constitutional and directed the state Fair Political Practices Commission to seek clarification from the state Supreme Court.
With that opening, Feuer wants to draft a narrowly defined ordinance barring lobbyists from raising funds for officeholder accounts, or from contributing to campaigns.
The officeholder accounts are supposed to be for expenses related to "official business," but the definition is loose allowing council members to use the funds for entertaining themselves and constituents, for example.
"I think we should break the cycle that lobbyists can raise funds for elected officials with the assumption that that money buys influence with elected officials in the future," Feuer said.
Such a measure would pass constitutional muster, Feuer asserts, because city lobbyists are in a different class than other citizens and therefore do not enjoy the same First Amendment benefits.
"Lobbyists are in a unique position with respect to the political process, and they should be limited," Feuer said, adding that when they choose to be lobbyists, they also choose to lose some free-speech opportunities. "That's the way the world works."
A motion by Feuer to direct the city attorney and the city's Ethics Commission to draft legislation barring lobbyist fund raising and contributions has been sent to the Council's Rules and Elections Committee. The motion could be considered by the committee as early as this week.
The proposed city ordinance already has raised the ire of city lobbyists, who say Feuer is wasting the city's time and money in light of the federal court ruling.
"Feuer is pressing ahead with something that the courts might declare any day now is unconstitutional, and has already been put into doubt," said Jim Sutton, a San Francisco attorney representing a group of L.A. lobbyists and lobbying firms including Rose & Kindel, Christensen Miller Fink Jacobs Glaser Weil & Shapiro LLP and Clark Davis. "That's a very unusual position for an elected official to take."
Sutton said Feuer's assertion that lobbyist contributions and fund raising are tantamount to influence-buying is misguided.
"Why have a ban on contributions when we have bribery laws? Just enforce the bribery laws," Sutton said.
Rebecca Avila, executive director of the L.A. Ethics Commission, which also is proposing changes to the city's lobbying laws in the wake of the Proposition 208 ruling, also questions the constitutionality of instituting limits on lobbyists.
Avila cited a section of Karlton's ruling on Proposition 208 dealing with lobbyists that, in reference to lobbyists' inability to give or raise funds, stated, "Their ability to exercise their speech and association in support of particular candidates is severely limited."
Avila said Karlton's ruling was primarily directed toward dollar-amount limits on donations to office-seekers, but that he seemed to oppose limits on lobbyist contributions.
"I am sort of leaning on the side of the people who said he would have struck down (limits on lobbyists)," she said.
The Ethics Commission itself last week proposed a new rule that would bar lobbyists from acting as fund raisers for campaign or officeholder accounts.
Unlike Feuer's proposal, however, the proposal from the mayoral-appointed Ethics Commission would still allow lobbyists to make direct contributions to city candidates and officeholder accounts.
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