Disney’s Director of External Affairs, Carrie Nocella, could soon have to register as a lobbyist for the first time at Anaheim City Hall in the wake of one of the biggest corruption scandals to rock Orange County.
The Fall of Reform
Corruption probes in Anaheim are triggering tough ethics discussions across OC and Southern California. Will reform follow?
A scandal that touches on Disneyland and a host of other resort interests.
The move comes months after city-hired independent investigators echoed in a corruption report released in July what FBI agents concluded in sworn affidavits last year: city hall is essentially controlled by lobbyists and Disneyland resort interests.
Mayor Ashleigh Aitken, along with Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava, spearheaded the reform, including applying it to in-house lobbying activity, which could mean Disney has to register Nocella as a lobbyist.
“Whatever your title is, if you spend most of your time advocating and trying to influence public officials, I believe that you should have to register,” Aitken said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Anaheim City Council members voted 5-2 to bolster their lobbyist registration ordinance as part of a series of reform proposals they’ve debated this fall to address the continued fallout of a corruption scandal that surfaced more than a year and a half ago.
Councilmembers Jose Diaz and Natalie Meeks – both who benefited from independent campaign expenditures from a committee largely funded by Disney – opposed the reform.
It’s one of the biggest overhauls elected officials have made to City Hall in the fallout of the corruption scandal.
So far, officials have decided to post their meeting calendars online, voted to create an ethics officer position at city hall whose responsibilities are yet to be finalized, and required city officials and staff to use government phones and devices to conduct city business.
Tuesday marks the third time Anaheim officials have debated reforming the lobbyist ordinance since the corruption report released in July, painting a picture of loose oversight of lobbyists at city hall – including potential criminal violations.
In all three debates, Disney and Nocella were never explicitly mentioned by council members.
“This is going to be an important step and it is going to be showing the residents of Anaheim that we take the lessons learned from the past several years seriously,” Aitken said.
Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s Board of Directors.
Tuesday’s decision comes one day after the nonprofit Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) released the results of a community survey that showed 96% of about 100 respondents want city officials to reform the way lobbying is conducted in the city.
Pushback on Reform
Meeks and Diaz opposed the changes, arguing they were too complicated and that a newly approved policy this month to publish council members’ calendars online lets residents know who they’re meeting with.
“What more transparency are we getting from this lobbying provision that we’re not getting with making our calendars public?” Meeks said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I am just very concerned that we are duplicating efforts and costs for our residents, and then creating conflicts between those efforts, because they’re not structured the same.”
Meeks received over half a million dollars in campaign support from Disney’s chief political spending arm – the Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee – in last year’s election.
Craig Steele, a former city attorney for Seal Beach who was brought in to help the council review its current policy, said at Tuesday’s meeting that the ordinance would only expand the current rules to in-house lobbyists who have to follow similar rules in other cities.
“Having dealt with this issue for a number of years in-house lobbyists know what the rules are,” Steele said. “Those people know how to comply and they won’t be surprised by any of the language that we’ve added.”
Steele also said that the new language helps clarify what lobbying looks like.
“I suspect you have been under-reported for a long time in this city, because the definition of lobbying was so vague,” Steele said.
Lobbyist Reform in Anaheim
Besides requiring in-house lobbyists to register, the proposed ordinance also requires an annual audit of at least 20% of lobbying activity in the city, as well as banning lobbyists from working as council aides for at least a year after they stop their lobbying activities.
The proposal also excludes labor union negotiators from having to report as a lobbyist.
Councilman Stephen Faessel pushed back on that exclusion, arguing that all lobbyists should be treated the same and threatened not to vote for the reform if it remained included in the ordinance.
“They do exactly what other lobbyists do,” Faessel said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the rest of the lobbyists. I don’t think it’s fair that we take one group and say no King’s X you get a pass and everybody else doesn’t. I don’t think that’s fair. We either look at lobbyists together completely the same, or we don’t.”
Councilwoman Rubalcava said she would not support the ordinance if the exclusion for labor negotiators was not included.
“Our employee unions should be treated differently when it comes to their MOU’s,” Rubalcava said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I would hate for you to put me in a position that has me vote no on this lobbying ordinance because you’re going to go back on what the majority Council recommended.”
Faessel ultimately voted in favor of the lobbyist reform.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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