Special Report: Who’s Monitoring the Lobbyist Ordinance in Santa Clara?
By Robert Haugh
The lobbyist ordinance in Santa Clara has been in place since January 2016 but it appears that no one is really monitoring it.
Santa Clara City Clerk Rod Diridon, Jr. got extra money in his budget the last two years (approximately $163,486, plus an initial $10,000 for technology and outreach) but says that it’s not really his job to enforce or monitor the ordinance. It’s other people’s responsibility. Here’s what Diridon wrote to explain how things are handled:
“The City Clerk’s Office provides updated lists of lobbyists, exemptions and referrals to the City Attorney’s Office, Mayor/Council Office, City Manager’s Office and City departments. These Offices have more interaction with lobbyists on a functional, day-to-day basis as the ones actually being lobbied, or the people setting appointments between lobbyists and policy makers or staff.”
Currently, there are 78 registered lobbyists that do business in Santa Clara. Most represent developers like SummerHill Homes and the Related Companies. The 49ers also have lobbyists. So does Google.
Another group of 24 individuals say that they are exempt from the ordinance, including 18 members of the Santa Clara Chamber board of directors. That group would include Miles Barber who has raised eyebrows and questions about his potential lobbying activities on behalf of the massive Mariani development project.
Someone can be exempt from the ordinance for a variety of reasons. For example, representatives of employee groups are exempt. So are board members or employees of nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporations, unless the nonprofit organization is lobbying for a specific project.
We received information that an additional seven individuals say that they are not required to register. According to Diridon, neither he nor his office evaluates or checks if someone should be exempt or if they claim they are not required to register.
Diridon says that he receives information from others about an individual that’s engaged in lobbying activity. He then sends letters to them with registration information.
Warnings and Violation
But sometimes Diridon will need to send multiple letters. After three letters, Diridon will refer the matter the City Attorney’s office. For example, Ash Pirayou, a lawyer with Ruan and Tucker LLP, who represents development interests, was sent letters on September 14, 2016 and September 29, 2016. He registered five months later on February 28, 2017. Pirayou did not receive a third letter and he was not fined even though the ordinance says: “Lobbyists must register with the City Clerk within fifteen (15) days after qualifying as a lobbyist.”
Josh Scharfberg of AllVision, the controversial company hired to produce outdoor advertising for the city, was also sent two letters in September. He declared that he was not required to register.
But one person working on behalf of AllVision did get into trouble. Councilwoman Patty Mahan was found to be lobbying for the company in 2016 while she was off the council.
The city hired a special investigator in 2016 and the report is on the City Clerk’s website.
The investigator concluded that Mahan violated the lobbying ordinance but she didn’t know it:
Ms. Mahan engaged in lobbying within the meaning of the Lobbying Ordinance when she met with various City officials on AIIVision’s behalf, and that she was not exempt from registration as a lobbyist under the attorney exemption; however, her failure to register did not constitute a “knowing” violation of the ordinance that would subject her to penalties because she had a reasonable and good faith belief that she was covered by the attorney exemption.
Mahan was only investigated because then-candidate for City Clerk Deborah Bress reported her directly to the City Attorney’s office. Mahan is the only person who has been investigated so far under the lobbyist ordinance since its inception.
We’ll keep watching how the ordinance is enforced and particularly any cases that have been referred to the City Attorney’s office.