Local business interests are upset about a proposal to overhaul Los Angeles city lobbying rules, claiming it does nothing to address what they see as pervasive union influence at City Hall.

The proposal, to be unveiled this month by the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, would change the criteria for who should register as a lobbyist. But it continues to exempt many labor unions and allied social service organizations that often exert influence with city officials, while business interests and their representatives remain subject to stringent reporting requirements.

?here? an unlevel playing field now and this ordinance makes sure that the unlevel playing field will continue,?said Carol Schatz, chief executive of the Central City Association, which represents major downtown businesses.

Schatz and some other business leaders said the impacts of this imbalance go far beyond the confines of City Hall. They say labor interests often meet secretly with City Council aides or bureaucrats and craft policies that hurt business. Those include project labor agreements that effectively shut out nonunion private contractors, or expansion of the living wage ordinance. By the time business interests find out, the deals are all but sealed.

?his goes to the heart of why Los Angeles is such a difficult place to do business in,?said David Fleming, founding chairman of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, which was launched 18 months ago as a counterweight to union influence in the city and throughout the county. ?t all goes to this mindset of elected officials that business interests are inherently suspicious while labor interests are inherently good.?p>Labor unions and their allies counter that they are reporting their lobbying activities and following the rules. They also dispute the notion that they have a significant advantage over business interests at City Hall, pointing to influences that developers and city contractors wield through campaign contributions.

?e don? see that a case can be made that worker interests are protected as a special class at City Hall,?said James Elmendorf, policy director for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which was formed in the mid-1990s to push for a citywide living wage ordinance. The organization receives financial support and other backing from labor unions.

Current rules

Under the current city lobbying ordinance, any individual or group lobbying 30 hours over a 90-day period must register. This is the category in to which most labor groups fall.

Professionals who get $1,000 or more for advocating on behalf of clients during a three-month period also must register. That is the rule that applies to most business lobbyists.

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