Arizona Republic reporters Dustin Gardiner, Rob O’Dell and Richard Ruelas discuss Phoenix’s recent efforts to crack down on lobbyists and how it will affect residents, city government and the media.
Lobbyists who get paid to influence decisions at Phoenix City Hall will face harsher penalties starting this summer if they don’t comply with the city’s regulations — the first time in many years that they actually could suffer consequences for breaking the rules.
The City Council voted 9-0 Wednesday to give final approval to an overhaul of the city’s lobbying ordinance so it can prosecute paid lobbyists who flout rules requiring them to register, disclose their clients and disclose gifts to city officials.
The move follows an Arizona Republic report in January that showed the city’s existing rules for lobbyists are toothless.
It also comes after The Republic reported Wednesday that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation into an incident where a high-profile law firm filed falsified lobbyist documents with the city.
The situation made the city realize its existing lobbyist law was unenforceable, and ultimately, led council members to toughen the rules.
Council members said Wednesday’s vote to put penalties in the law was long overdue, but none spoke about the state’s looming investigation. Wednesday’s vote finalized changes the council agreed to make last week.
“I think it’s finally a solution,” Councilwoman Thelda Williams said.
Mayor Greg Stanton and some council members called for the city to revamp its lobbyist ordinance earlier this year, but it took the council four months to do so.
Phoenix’s existing lobbyist law was adopted more than two decades ago, but until Wednesday, it lacked language that explicitly said the city could prosecute those who don’t comply.
Under the new rules, which take effect July 1, lobbyists who don’t file the required registration or expense-disclosure forms can face sanctions, including fines of up to $2,500, suspension from lobbying and possible jail time for repeated offenses.
Among the other requirements in the ordinance:
- It applies to lobbyists’ communication with far more officials at the city. The old rules only applied to communication with elected officials. Now, the rules will include contact with city executives, including department directors, the city manager and his top staffers, along with members of boards and commissions, such as the Planning Commission.
- Lobbyists accused of a violation will have 15 days to fix the problem before facing an investigation.
- A lobbyist’s first two offenses within a seven-year period would be civil violations, punishable by a fine ($1,000 for a first offense and $2,500 for a second offense). A third violation in that time frame would be a criminal misdemeanor.
- Lobbyists who violate rules also would face suspensions from contacting city officials, with 90 days for a first offense, six months for a second offense and one year for a third offense.
- If a lobbyist is accused of a violation, and ignores a warning to fix the error, the city’s Ethics Commission will investigate. The commission can determine if a violation occurred and refer the case to the city attorney.
- Lobbyists are required to tell city officials whom they contact that they are working in a capacity as a lobbyist.
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