Board members lobbied over 100 times to Lee’s 14

lee.debate.jpgMayor Ed Lee’s first nine months as a politician have been a veritable whirlwind. It was a hectic schedule which saw accidental mayor segue into his new role of heavyweight incumbent, a peek at his calendar reveals: movers and shakers ranging from reps for Twitter, AT&T, America’s Cup and California Pacific Medical Center, to foreign leaders from the mayor of Kabul to the hereditary Duke of Luxembourg all visited Room 200.

But Lee is not spending much time with lobbyists, according to city records. Through the end of September, the mayor met with registered lobbyists only 14 times in 2011, according to records on file with the Ethics Commission.

“Only” 14 times, because that figure is less than a tenth of the contacts reported with other city officials like Supervisor Scott Wiener and Board President David Chiu, who had 130 and 129 contacts with lobbyists reported, respectively.

Of Lee’s fourteen lobbying visits, four were from the Building Owners and Managers Association, which represents commercial landlords, and two were from Parkmerced representatives. Lobbyists for AT&T, the San Francisco Apartment Association, the Art Alliance, and Warren Hellman — yep — also reported visits, according to records.

Mayoral staffers didn’t get lobbied much either, according to records: chief of staff Steve Kawa was lobbied 15 times, mostly on America’s Cup; Jennifer Matz, head of the influential Office of Economic and Workforce Development, was lobbied seven times.

It’s incumbent upon the lobbyist making the contact to file the report with the Ethics Commission, and the threshold for what constitutes a “contact” can vary from lobbyist to lobbyist, from firm to firm. Still, such a low number of contacts in comparison to other members of the city family is raising some eyebrows in the city’s lobbying community.

“I’m flabbergasted” at how few contacts were reported, one local registered lobbyist said, speaking frankly on condition of anonymity.

“It’s shocking, actually,” the lobbyist added. “But is it an accurate representation?”

That’s a good question, the answer to which isn’t readily available. “Mayor Lee fully expects all lobbying activity to be reported,” mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said via e-mail.

“He spent most of his time in the beginning of his term focused on developing the budget with dozens of community based organizations, labor groups, good government groups and business groups to help prioritize the city’s spending for the Fiscal Year.”

Does that mean that all lobbying visits to the mayor were duly reported? Falvey did not respond to an email posing that question.

It could be that there simply aren’t as many registered lobbyists swarming around Ed Lee — or that if there are, they’re not quite as cautious as some. Take attorney Brett Gladstone, for example. Gladstone is a registered lobbyist, and is responsible for about two dozen of the 130 reported lobbyist visits to Wiener, who is the city’s most-lobbied public official.

Gladstone reported ten contacts with Wiener in September and August alone on behalf of two clients — both homeowners going through planning headaches at the Board of Appeals. It’s worth mentioning that not every attorney working on development projects registers as a lobbyist, and not every contact that Gladstone has made — some as incidental as a five-minute phone call — would be reported to Ethics.

But “you don’t want to worry about violating any rules,” Gladstone told the Appeal recently. “So I register anytime I contact someone at the Board about an appeal.”

A lobbyist is anyone receiving $3,000 or more over three straight months for “services rendered for the purpose of influencing or attempting to influence local legislative or administrative action,” according to the city’s Lobbyist Ordinance, which uses one subsection to describe what a lobbyist is, compared to 17 subsections stating what a lobbyist isn’t.

This means that if compensation for lobbying isn’t delivered, it’s not a lobbyist visit. Furthermore, if a meeting is deemed purely informational — for example, someone telling Ed Lee, “Host our boat race or we’ll make life difficult for you” — that’s not a lobbying contact.

It’s worthy to note that there are some meetings listed on Mayor Ed Lee’s calendar that sound an awful lot like specific “administrative action” was sought. Here are just a few examples:

-Pension reform, Monday, July 11, 3 p.m.; Tuesday, July 12, 9 a.m.;
-Youth transit, Friday, July 15, 9 a.m.;
-City Fields, Tuesday, June 7, 10 a.m.;
-California Pacific Medical Center development, Wednesday, June 8, 2 p.m.

Of course, if these are merely meetings with mayoral staffers, or with folks not registered as lobbyists, or registered lobbyists earning less than $3,000 from lobbying in three months, these aren’t reported lobbyists visits.

So with whom was the mayor meeting during these discussions of big-time SF issues? We don’t know, meaning perhaps the laws aren’t strong enough for those who demand total transparency.

“San Francisco demands a great deal of transparency from its elected officials, and from the people who do business at City Hall,” said political consultant and registered lobbyist Alex Clemens, founder and CEO of Barbary Coast Consulting. “Almost everybody who does work over the long time complies with all the promulgated rules.”

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