New Portland city commissioner Sam Adams is championing a great idea -- requiring people who lobby city government to register and report whom they're lobbying, when, and for how much. The quarterly reports from such folks would promptly be posted on the internet.
The time for this kind of regulation has surely come. The city's recent adoption of a fast-posting regime for municipal campaign contribution reports has opened many an eye to the millions being spent each year trying to pull the strings on the Council. Lifting the blinds and letting the same kind of daylight shine on the lobbyists is another welcome move for more open, more accountable government. All local agencies -- especially loosely regulated pork barrels like the PDC, Tri-Met, and OHSU -- should rapidly follow suit.
Metro already has a lobbyist registration system. The current list is here. But Adams's proposal would apparently take a slightly different approach, airing the specifics of amounts spent and commissioners entertained.
Leave it to consummate lobbyist and long-time Goldschmidt pal Len Bergstein to try to put a spin on the Adams proposal:
[Bergstein] does, however, want any new city disclosure laws to cut both ways. For example, he thinks commissioners should disclose anytime they ask for donations to city initiatives or political campaigns from lobbyists and companies that lobby.
Bergstein also thinks people who don't get paid for their work but essentially spend all their time advocating causes or issues should be included, whether as part of a lobbyist list or some other kind of public registration.
"If the idea is to show the public the kinds of conversations that go on, I'll be the first one to sign up," he said. "But what's good for the goose is good for the gander, you know. If you're intending to spend a large amount of time testifying before council and talking to council members, you probably should have to let the world know what you're doing."
What a weasel.
Commissioner Adams, you are off to a great start. But why not do more? Why not prohibit city officials from accepting meals, gifts, and entertainment from lobbyists at all?
Which brings me back to the other big government reform proposal floating around the Council: the plan to adopt public financing of municipal campaigns, to be paid out of the city's general tax revenues, to the tune of an estimated $1.3 million a year. Why don't we see how the Adams plan, and the relatively new posting of the campaign contribution disclosure reports, work before we commit to "clean money"?
At 5 percent interest, the present value of $1.3 million a year in perpetuity is $26 million. Why not see if more modest moves, such as the lobbyist disclosures, can get local government to the minimum level of cleanliness that we need?