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Lobbyist on the Trail of City Hall Power

by Larry Bush on 04/21/2011

in Paper Trails

You can count on it. If you want to know who has power in City Hall circa 2011, follow the trail of lobbyists to the doors of elected officials.

The supervisors who topped the list of lobbyist contacts for the first quarter of 2011 were David Chiu (35), Scott Weiner (28), Mark Farrell (21), Malia Cohen (20) and Sean Elsbernd (19).

Gone from the top list are the more reform-minded supervisors who chaired key committees just a few months ago. Now only five contacts were reported for John Avalos, last year’s Budget Chair. David Campos, unquestionably influential in last year’s make-up, had ten reported lobbyist contacts. Ross Mirkarimi, the only reform supervisor who still chairs a committee, had just 12 lobbyist contacts. Mar also had 10 contacts.

It’s not because City Hall business has slowed to a trickle, though March wasn’t quite as rich financially for lobbyists as February was.

The March total of payments promised came to $397,400 compared to February’s $449,238.63

It’s likely that the coming months will see an increase in client payments to lobbyists, considering the decisions that are ahead. Already the top client for the year is California Pacific Medical Center at $127,974. Four other clients are in a virtual tie at $45,000 each – Aecom (with a number of city contracts, including the Transbay Terminal and the Chinatown subway), Millennium Partners, Parkmerced and Crescent Heights (both in mid-Market and South of Market).

It won’t escape anyone’s attention that each of these are primarily about development and permit issues. In past years, some of the top clients have been bidders on contracts for services.

The leading firms paid for their skill at navigating through the City Hall approval processes are Platinum Advisors ($313,900), Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter et al ($257, 750), HMS Associates (Marsha Smolens) ($225,000), Barbary Coast ($155,900) and Ground Floor ($118,750).

Those totals actually underestimate the fees paid to these companies since it is exclusively for contacting city officials, and does not include strategic advice and other professional services. Those costs are reportable in Los Angeles as lobbying costs.

The public disclosure also underestimates other costs which the Ethics Commission has deemed not longer are subject to public scrutiny. By changing the definition of lobbyist, Ethics no longer requires disclosures from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ners, among others.

In addition, Ethics does not consider responding to a request for information from a city official to be “lobbying.”




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