Observing the most important work at City Hall is so much like watching paint dry that it doesn’t bear reporting. That’s the case with the City Ethics Commission as it plods along rewriting the lobbyist regulation laws.
I don’t blame the reporters. I was one of them for a long time. Reporters and their editors live by conflict and hot personalities. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is hot and it’s hard to resist writing about him as he bounds from here to Washington and battles a jealous and attention-starved City Council.
But most of City Hall doesn’t operate in that arena, especially the ethics commission, which is responsible for writing rules regulating that most dysfunctional of relationships, money and politics. We operate in the shadows, pretty much ignored by the reporters, which is why I started writing this blog
You may recall Proposition R, the measure that extended City Council term limits and weakened—in my opinion—lobby control laws. It won by a large margin and now the ethics commission is facing the task of writing regulations that implement it.
On a recent morning, we held a public hearing as we began work, inviting the lobbyist corps to give its opinions. Only one reporter was there and I wasn’t surprised to see that it was Rick Orlov of the Daily News. Orlov understands that the dullest hearings are often the most important. He took notes and actually wrote a story.
I had gone to the meeting ready for combat and even made a nasty comment about Proposition R as the session began. That’s the reporter’s mind at work—combat and conflict.
But I soon realized I was playing the wrong game. The election was long gone and now it was time for the regulators—the ethics commission—and the regulated—the lobbyists—to work out some rules that will permit us to keep things honest and them to perform their lawful function of advocating for their clients.
The resulting discussion was major policy wonk stuff, only palatable to those few people who get excited about political reform laws. When should lobbyists file reports? Who exactly is covered? What about electronic filing? But the resulting web of laws and regulation—months away from completion—will have a major impact on how the big players influence the laws that affect everybody.
This is pretty tedious. But victory goes to those with the patience to sit through such meetings—a good lesson for an ex reporter still suffering from a journalist’s short attention span.