FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ISSUE: Former Mayor Willie Brown is a powerful advocate for private interests — but he flouts lobbyist registration laws
Black told us the chamber used to be considered a "registered lobby entity" that was required to report all contacts with public officials and the issue involved. But the Board of Supervisors changed that law last year, requiring lobbyist registration only from individuals who are paid at least $3,000 per quarter for lobbying. Furthermore, the definition of lobbying doesn't include attending or speaking at public hearings or writing letters. So while the SF Chamber's Black, Steve Falk, and Jim Lazarus all lobby city officials, Black said, none have exceeded that threshold. "If we hit the monetary threshold, we'll start filing individually," he said.
The fact that Brown is a lawyer doesn't excuse him from registering, said Ethics Commission director John St. Croix "If someone is paid specifically to lobby government, they should register," St. Croix said.
Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told us that the city needs to take a look at the lobbyist registration law to make sure that everyone who has private interests is properly registered.
Elsbernd said that others — particularly labor leaders and union staffers — also regularly lobby but don't register. And while the law may allow them to skate underneath (like Black), there's a huge difference between, say, Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson appearing at City Hall and Brown meeting with city officials.
When Paulson appears, there's no doubt in anyone's mind whom he represents. The same could be said of Black. Although the chamber has many members, it's clear that he's pushing the interests of the big-business community.
On the other hand, Ken Cleaveland, public affairs director of the Building Owners and Managers Association, is duly registered with the Ethics Commission.
Brown — as is his typical practice — didn't return my calls seeking comment. But by flouting the rules, he's able to operate completely behind the scenes, influencing policy decisions in secrecy, with no accountability whatsoever. That's a violation of the exact reason the lobbyist registration laws exist.