San Francisco government is known for nothing if not its vigorous public hearings, a process in which the comments and input of citizens are heartily solicited — at times to the chagrin of some people. When issues provoke a hearing in The City, there are clear protocols for openness, public notice and the like.
But even as issues or projects wend their way through San Francisco’s public-approval process, other forces are at work in the hallways and offices of City Hall. These are the teams of lobbyists who are paid to help land contracts, sway officials to support or oppose projects, and help large projects navigate The City’s labyrinthine planning process.
Many of these lobbyists are required to file paperwork with the Ethics Commission that allows the public to scrutinize their dealings. But some of the people who stalk the hallways trying to lobby officials and decision-makers are able to sidestep these disclosure rules. This latter group — which includes attorneys, permit expediters and representatives of some nonprofit groups — can work to persuade or dissuade without the public ever being able to find out about their efforts.
But now City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu have proposed reform that would classify more people under the official lobbyist label, forcing them to register with the Ethics Commission and disclose their connections, meetings and dealings.
There are rumblings that this proposal is directed at certain people in The City, many of whom have close ties to Mayor Ed Lee. But while it appears that some of the people singled out for criticism would be required to register as lobbyists, this proposal applies to many more people than just the lawyers and permit expediters who have supported Lee. And since this proposal would be on the books long after Lee leaves office, it is for the long-term good of government transparency that The San Francisco Examiner supports the idea.
There is nothing inherently wrong with paid supporters or opponents of legislation or projects interacting with city officials to affect the actions of government. Indeed, given the paperwork required for any business to open or construction project to move forward, it would be foolhardy for many individuals or companies to go it alone without assistants paid to navigate the waters of City Hall.
But the public has a right to see who is trying to influence its decision-makers. San Francisco already has some of the state’s toughest regulations when it comes to lobbying. This proposal from Herrera and Chiu would bolster those rules by shining a light into what are currently dark corners of the lobbying practice at City Hall.