By Erica C. Barnett
The Seattle City Council’s governance committee moved forward legislation drafted by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission that would require “grassroots lobbyists”—defined as people or organizations that spend at least $750 a month trying to influence the public to lobby public officials on legislation—to register with the city and disclose their contributions and expenditures.
According to council president Lorena González, who spoke with PubliCola about the proposal last week, “if you’re a small operation that isn’t spending any money to present a public influence campaign, then nothing’s going to change for you. It is going to change the regulations and the environment for people who are well-organized, well-funded, and are spending the required mat of money on presenting public-facing campaigns that are designed to influence legislation.”
Importantly, the new requirements wouldn’t impact regular people contacting the city directly, even if that contact is prompted by a grassroots lobbying effort—like a social media campaign that urges you to contact your council members. If a socialist organization holds a rally to drum up support for a new tax proposal, for example, that group would have to register as a lobbying organization and report the cost of the rally to the city, but a person who shows up at the rally and decides to testify in favor of the proposal would not. The lobbying rules wouldn’t apply to elected officials, who are allowed under the city’s ethics rules to lobby the public to their heart’s content.
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The legislation, which González is sponsoring, would also expand the definition of direct lobbying to include communications with department directors and staff for elected officials, and require public disclosure when a lobbyist also works on campaigns for politicians or ballot measures—henceforth known as the Sandeep Kaushik rule.
As PubliCola reported last month, one group that would be impacted by the legislation is Change Washington, which has attempted to influence the public using email campaigns, op/eds, and a series of misleading “reports” by former city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay that have argued against police funding cuts and legislation creating a new defense to misdemeanor charges for people with severe mental health or drug dependency issues. Currently, the public has little insight into who’s behind Change Washington or how much Lindsay and its staff are being paid to indirectly lobby the council. The grassroots lobbying legislation would ensure that groups like this are subject to the same transparency requirements as other lobbyists. Continue reading “City Will Require More Transparency from Public Influence Campaigns”