Lobbyists Get the Red Light

*Sacramento signals special interests that they will be held to a higher standard.


Despite being the butt of as many jokes and gibes as lawyering, political lobbying and campaign managing are legitimate professional pursuits. Not, however, at the same time. The state Assembly on Monday started patching a loophole by passing measures designed to absolutely separate the two roles. There was nothing subtle about the incident last year that prompted the Legislature to act. Lobbyist/campaign consultant Richie Ross, always known for his sharp elbows, was accused of indirectly threatening to "get" lawmakers who declined to support a bill sponsored by the United Farm Workers Union, one of his clients.

Ross had served as a campaign manager for the Assembly members in question, Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and Gloria McLeod (D-Chino) and potentially had the power and knowledge to affect their future political success. AB 1785 by Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Los Feliz) would bar anyone from lobbying a lawmaker if the lobbyist also works as a campaign official for the politician. As Frommer put it, accurately: "A political consultant who knows intimate details of elected officials' lives and is a creditor of their political campaigns should not be lobbying them." The bill passed on a vote of 69 to 0.

AB 1784 by Wolk would apply the same restrictions to someone lobbying state constitutional officers, such as the governor or state treasurer. Her bill passed 68 to 0.

Ross insisted he did nothing wrong. Under the letter of current law, perhaps so. But his behavior, as described by aides to the two lawmakers, certainly crossed ethical lines. At present, Ross appears to be the only campaign manager or consultant who also is a registered lobbyist, leading to the argument that the legislation was overkill. In fact, Ross' great success in his dual role would no doubt have attracted others to such a lucrative and potentially powerful dual position. The two bills should put an end to any such temptation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been clear about wanting to change the way the state does business. The Frommer-Wolk legislation is a good start, signaling lobbyists and special interests that they will be held to a higher standard than in the past, with a real civil or criminal penalty for failing to comply. The Senate should pass the measure quickly and send it right along to Schwarzenegger.

See the article on Los Angeles Times website

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