LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles city council last week approved changes in its lobbying law to ensure improved disclosure by those seeking to influence governmental decisions.

City officials said the new ordinance should provide stronger public disclosure about lobbying activities. It also attempts to make lawyers report more of their activities when serving as lobbyists. In the past, some lawyers claimed they were exempt from such disclosure requirements because of confidentiality privileges with clients.

"Since the mid-1980s, city officials have recognized that the current lobbying law is weak, ineffective, and out-of-date," the Los Angeles Ethics Commission said in a background summary on the new ordinance.

The new law seeks to establish an overall framework for who is and who is not required to report lobbying activities. It also tries to define the requirements of the law more clearly.

The changes take effect on August 10.

Prior to proposing the changes, the city's ethics commission held numerous public hearings and reviewed the existing law. The commission initially submitted a proposal to the city council two years ago.

After a series of hearings, the city council's rules and elections committee approved a version of the draft lobbying ordinance on April 28, 1994. The full council unanimously approved the ordinance last Tuesday.

Underwriters and others who seek bond-related business with Los Angeles will no doubt have an interest in reviewing the changes. Some market participants say lobbying is becoming more prevalent among firms competing to do bond business with the city.

"A person is lobbying when he or she communicates directly with a city official on behalf of any other person in an attempt to influence a matter that is pending or proposed before any city agency," according to the ethics commission. "Attempting to influence a decision means promoting, supporting, opposing or seeking to modify or delay a city decision or action by any means."

The new ordinance is written to include reporting exemptions for certain individuals and firms that lobby intermittently. Those who earn less than $4,000 per calendar quarter to lobby the city would not be required to report their activity.

"The quarterly threshold adopted by the committee eliminates the reporting requirement for infrequent and most part-time lobbyists, while requiring disclosure of the most influential lobbyists' activities," the ethics commission said.

The new ordinance also requires that lawyer-lobbyists register and report activities on behalf of their clients.

In addition, indirect lobbying activities will be disclosed by requiring those who spend large sums of private money with the goal of influencing public decisions to report those expenditures.

For example, campaign contributions of $100 or more that are funneled through a lobbyist as an intermediary must be disclosed.

Various late filing and criminal penalties are stipulated for violations of the law. Civil actions also can be filed up to four years after the date on which a violation occurs.

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