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Sacramento's outdated Lobbying Ordinance needs improvements!

Did you know that the Sacramento City Council has an Ethics Commission? Well, if you didn’t, now you do! And we’re gonna tell you about the important work they do!

According to their website:

The Sacramento City Council established the Sacramento Ethics Commission to review and consider complaints against elected and appointed City officials and to ensure that those officials are conforming their conduct to the City’s laws and policies. The commission has the power and duty to review, investigate, and consider complaints alleging violations of said laws and policies

In sum: this commission exists to hold our government officials accountable to the ethical standards set by the City!

Do you have an incident you would like investigated?? Fill out this linked form!


What are they working on now?

Today we are spotlighting the work being done around the City's lobbying ordinance by the Commission's Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Code ad hoc committee!

  • The information provided in this write-up is based of off of the update given by the ad hoc committee to the full Commission in October of 2022

Let's dive into Sacramento's lobbying ordinance, and the recommendations for improvement from the Ethics Commission!

The Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Code Ad Hoc Committee was established by the Ethics Commission on May 23rd, 2022. The Ad Hoc Committee reviewed the City's Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Code and found that the Lobbying Ordinance has not been updated since 2003. This is despite the increasing need for transparency in Sacramento - and despite the code’s requirements for transparency regarding the identities of lobbyists, their activities, and the money being spent on lobbying.

The Ad Hoc Committee’s purpose is to examine this code in order to provide policy recommendations to the City Council through the Ethics Commission.

This code and the set of guidelines provided in the Code from 2003 have not been touched since that year. 20 years of no policy language change demands an update to better reflect transparency within the Sacramento City government. The Ethics Commission thus appointed the Ad Hoc Committee to review the Lobbying Ordinance to better recommend updates to the policy. These recommendations will need to be approved by the full City Council before they can be implemented.

Highlights regarding the committee's recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Changing lobbying registration thresholds

  • Change threshold for being considered an in-house lobbyist to 15 hours/3mo period spent on lobbying activities (currently would have to spend more than 100 hours in a 3-month period on lobbying activities to meet the threshold)

  • Change threshold for being considered a contract lobbyist to $1,500/3mo period (currently set at $3,200/3mo period)

The City of Sacramento is behind that of other cities in California with “lobbying disclosure and regulations.” The threshold for what qualifies someone as a lobbyist is so far below that of other California cities that potential spending on lobbying and “much of the lobbying activity” can go completely unnoticed by the public. Elsewhere, such as Berkeley, San Jose, and Oakland, the threshold for being considered a contract lobbyist is set at $1,000 or lower allowing for more transparency. It is therefore recommended that Sacramento set its threshold at $1,500/3mo period.

Recommendation 2: Require City quarterly lobbying reports

New requirements would ensure reporting the following information:

  • How much lobbying firms are receiving from clients + how much lobbyist employers are paying lobbying firms

  • Any gifts/contributions made to city officials by lobbying firms/lobbyists/employers

Providing full transparency regarding lobbying practices to the public will increase “public confidence in the integrity of local government.” Currently, the City (compared to the state and other CA cities) provides very little information on the type of lobbying activity that is taking place within local government. The Ordinance must be amended to require these guidelines for transparency so that each lobbying report will give an accurate picture of expenditures and activity.

Recommendation 3: Improve Sacramento’s online lobbying data collection and disclosure system

Changes would permit the following:

  • Searching lobbying filings by lobbyist employer

  • Searching by item being lobbied on

  • Allowing the system to filter and sort reports by amount of money spent

Though substantial improvements have been made to the City’s Lobbying webpage and online disclosure system, the City should consider improvements on system usability to make “information easier to find for the public.”

Recommendation 4: Adopt state law, which limits gifts given by lobbyists/lobbying firms to elected officials to be less than $10/mo, and prohibits them from directly contributing to campaigns they lobby for

When lobbyists give “direct gifts” or maximum contributions to campaigns, it can appear to the public that these funds/gifts are being given in return for favors or votes on legislation. The state already explicitly prohibits this. The Sac City Ordinance currently has no maximum limit on lobbyist gifts for officials - San Francisco, in contrast, prohibits lobbyists from giving any amount of gifts or campaign contributions to avoid the appearance of favors.

Recommendation 5: Amend the City Municipal Code to extend the Ethics Commission's enforcement authority to include lobbyists/firms/employers, and amend the ordinance to reference administrative penalties

In order to pursue one overarching purpose of the Ethics Commission, to ensure ethics laws are followed, the Commission needs to be given the ability to enforce ethics laws against “lobbyists, lobbying firms, or lobbyist employers” - as it is currently only given authority over city officers/candidates/campaign committees. The Ethics Commission is charged with enforcing the Ordinance - so it’s necessary that they’re given the ability to do so over lobbyists, their firms, and employers as well. This will ensure accurate tracking of ethics violations and will provide transparency to the public. Additionally, administrative enforcement of penalties resulting from policy violations are “preferable to” criminal enforcement.

Note: the recommendations discussed below have not yet been discussed at the full Sac City Council - but stay tuned for updates!

Opportunities for increasing transparency & accountability:

  • Currently the work of the Ethics Commission is mostly reactive - other jurisdictions do more than this, and Sacramento's Ethics Commission should be empowered to do the same!

  • Currently there is no onboarding process for joining this Commission - this should be remedied in order to increase transparency and accountability within the Commission which will further empower commissioners to be effective at executing the important work they're doing

  • In 2023 it has so far been challenging for the Commission to get meetings on the calendar, and there is a lack of certainty around what form the ad hoc committees that previously existed within the Commission will take, and how they will continue their work

    • What is this referencing? Well, back in August of 2022 the Sac City Council discussed an item (16) revising the Sac City Code. What this revision boils down to is that the City Council has officially removed the ability for City committees and commissions to form ad hoc committees - read our coverage from August 2022 here

Stay tuned to SJPC for updates on the status of the lobbying ordinance recommendations made by the Commission as well as other important work coming out of the Commission!


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