Lobbyists are calling it the "Scarlet L."
And their faces are turning red over a proposal in Beverly Hills to require paid lobbyists to wear identification badges when entering City Hall to advocate on behalf of their clients. Many of the clients are businesses, developers and the like.
The proposal, initiated by newly elected Councilman John Mirisch, is intended to cut down on confusion that might arise when people address City Council members or planning officials in support of development projects without stating whether they're paid advocates for those projects.
"This is to create clarity," Mirisch said. "We've had times when people are not sure if someone addressing the council is speaking as a resident of the city or as a paid advocate."
But lobbyists see it differently. They say being forced to wear a badge identifying them as a lobbyist relegates them to "second-class" status, especially given the often sordid image that lobbyists have with the general public. They contend that there are more effective ways to make sure people know that a certain speaker is a paid lobbyist, such as a registration system or a requirement that any oral or written testimony state if the person is a paid advocate.
One lobbyist went so far as to draw a comparison with the yellow Star of David that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.
"If I'm forced to wear a badge identifying me as a lobbyist, it will be in the shape of a Jewish star," said Harvey Englander, a principal at Englander & Associates in downtown Los Angeles who has represented developers before the Beverly Hills City Council and Planning Commission. "The concept of someone wearing a label identifying who they are is repugnant."
Englander and other local lobbyists had previously opposed a similar badge proposal in Los Angeles. Last year, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission broached the idea of requiring lobbyists to wear identification badges whenever meeting with public officials, and it was met with protests. The commission claimed it dropped the proposal when it became too complicated to distinguish among the types of lobbyists.
According to Cheryl Friedling, Beverly Hills deputy city manager for public affairs, only the city of Henderson, Nev., and the state of New Hampshire have adopted measures requiring professional lobbyists to wear badges when addressing government officials.
For 14 years, Henderson has required lobbyists to wear identification badges when meeting with City Council members or planning officials. The requirement has not been controversial, a Henderson lobbyist said.
"When they first introduced the measure, I was a little skeptical, but I have not had any problems with it," said attorney John Marchiano, who is a paid lobbyist for developers and casino operators. "Wearing an identification badge has even helped my business. I've had people come up to me while I'm wearing the badge and said they have a problem they need my help with. I've given them my card and some have ended up being my clients. It's been an unintentional marketing tool."
Unlike the Beverly Hills proposal, the Henderson law does not require lobbyists to wear the badge when addressing the City Council.
The Beverly Hills proposal has not yet been written into a draft ordinance. That means the City Council may be a couple of months away from voting on the issue.
Mirisch said that much of the confusion over the role of lobbyists has stemmed from speaking appearances in front of the council.
"We have people who wear several different hats, who live in the city yet also are paid lobbyists for developers," Mirisch said. "Yet when they get up to speak in favor of a project, it's not clear which hat they are wearing."
Local lobbyists said that issue could be cleared up by requiring lobbyists to identify themselves as such and to name the client they represent in their spoken and written remarks.
"There are other ways to accomplish this goal of making lobbyists disclose they are representing people," said Beverly Hills attorney Murray Fischer, who advocates on behalf of developers and companies seeking to do business in the city.
Other cities, he said, require a speaker to fill out a card stating the person's name, affiliation and whether that person is being paid to advocate on behalf of someone else.
"That should be sufficient here," Fischer said. "There should be no need to resort to anything as offensive as identification badges."
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