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LONG-OVERDUE REFORM? CON: `ETHICISTS,' NOT LOBBYISTS, ARE PROBLEM.

Byline: Steven Afriat

IMAGINE only non-physicians on the State Board of Medical Examiners.

This is what we have in Los Angeles with the city Ethics Commission, whose members have no practical experience lobbying or managing political campaigns.

These ``ethicists'' have attempted to regulate the political landscape and failed miserably.

I am proud to be a lobbyist and political consultant, and proud of the high standards of conduct I practice. Most who work in my industry are equally diligent, yet we have become the scapegoat of the commission, which reacts to irresponsible news articles written to create sensationalism around lobbyists and campaign practices when there is no evidence that any real problem exists.

Occasionally, when commission members have legitimate concerns, they use Band-Aids, rather than recognizing that the system needs a different approach.

The Ethics Commission would have us believe that lobbyists are spending untold thousands of dollars on political campaigns. It's misrepresenting the truth.

It's true that lobbyists and their clients donate to political campaigns. However, those clients would continue to donate whether they had lobbyists or not.

The commission manipulates statistics to prove a point. Even if you accept its figures for the 2001 municipal election, only 6 percent of all money spent in Los Angeles political campaigns came from lobbyists and their clients.

The commission would have us believe that lobbyists have a disproportionate amount of influence in City Hall. Most people who observe the City Council would argue that homeowners' associations and unions have a disproportionate amount of influence.

Smart elected officials will respond to their constituents, not lobbyists.

Furthermore, on many issues, lobbyists are hired on both sides. To assert that lobbyists dictate the results of a vote would ignore the fact that when council members vote on a given issue, they offend as many lobbyists as they please.

The commission would have us believe there is a conflict of interest when campaign consultants also act as lobbyists. Yet it has failed to offer any evidence to show that there is any conflict when that happens. Elected officials pay campaign consultants for their service; therefore, they do not feel any obligation toward them. The commission should be more concerned about lobbyists who help elected officials without compensation.

The commission would have us believe that campaign practices would be improved by limiting the amount of contributions that go into political campaigns, yet this is the very reason why independent expenditure committees are flourishing. In fact, the Ethics Commission is most responsible for political campaigns and donors being forced underground.

The commission complains about independent expenditures being difficult to track, yet it's the commission that created this monster.

Any ethics commissioner truly dedicated to full disclosure would simply get rid of the limitations imposed on city campaigns, which would present the opportunity to curtail or abolish independent expenditures. Then the public would know who is donating to whom and how much. If candidates for public office chose to take substantial contributions from special interests, they would have to explain themselves.

The commission would have us believe that more money is being spent on lobbying and political campaigns than ever before.

But aside from inflation, political campaigns in Los Angeles are feeling the results of term limits. The high turnover on the City Council has sparked very spirited political campaigns and a greater number of runoff campaigns, resulting in more money being spent. This is due to term limits, not additional interest from lobbyists.

The commission believes that lobbyists wake up every morning hoping that some candidate will call and ask for money. How absurd!

The commission would have us believe that it is wrong for lobbyists to serve as city commissioners, yet it cannot come up with one example of where there has been abuse.

Of approximately 300 commissioners, there are not more than four or five who are lobbyists. Of course, lobbyists should not serve on commissions they also lobby; however, we bring a very unique skill and knowledge of how to get things done at City Hall.

Just like doctors, lawyers, architects, homeowners and teachers, all professions should be welcome to serve on city commissions.

Los Angeles needs an Ethics Commission that understands advocacy and political campaigns. And the commission needs to support an honest attempt to direct campaign money to the candidates for which they are intended, rather than fostering an atmosphere of secret campaigns.

The Ethics Commission has established an ethics industry creating unnecessary paperwork, monitoring unimportant details and not recognizing that the system needs to be overhauled.

Perhaps, as term limits changed Los Angeles, they will also change the Ethics Commission, and we will see commissioners who truly understand how democracy works.

As Taoist founder Lao Tsu said, ``The more laws and order are made prominent, the more thieves and robbers there will be.''

Instead of trying to make an imperfect system perfect, the Ethics Commission should recognize that this imperfect system of democracy needs to function freely while protecting the public with full disclosure.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 3, 2003
Words:832
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