California Commission Opposes Measure to Track State Procurement as Lobbying Activity

The state Fair Political Practices Commission has told lawmakers that it has no business tracking state procurement as a lobbying activity — the heart of one lawmaker’s effort to bring greater transparency to state spending.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission has told lawmakers that it has no business tracking state procurement as a lobbying activity — the heart of one lawmaker’s effort to bring greater transparency to state spending.

In a March 22 letter, FPPC chair Jodi Remke wrote that AB 1200 would expand the commission’s oversight to “a highly specialized area that is best regulated by the Department of General Services” and other state agencies. She also questioned whether the bill would bring about the type of disclosure its backers seek.

The letter comes a week after the commission voted to oppose the measure by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park. At the March 17 hearing, commissioners repeatedly expressed concern about wading into the complex world of procurement regulations and creating a new, costly system at the FPPC.

“We really aren’t the right agency for this activity,” Remke said.

Gordon’s bill would require individuals or entities to register as a lobbyist if they have been hired to influence how California awards state contracts. The goal is to give the public more information about the $11 billion the state spends every year on goods and services, including lobbying activity before contracts are put out to bid.

Gordon, who appeared before the commission last week, told TechWire in an interview Wednesday that he and the commission have “a fundamental disagreement over what the bill does and does not do,” and he said his bill would not insert the FPPC into the procurement process.

“I see no way in which it does that,” Gordon said. “It’s strictly a bill about lobbying.”

In her letter, Remke also warned Gordon that his bill wouldn’t bring about the type of disclosure he seeks because lobbyists wouldn’t be required to report their specific communications with government agencies.

The bill would also exempt in-house lobbyists from disclosure. Instead, only contract consultants paid more than $2,000 a month to influence a procurement would be required to register. That distinction is troubling to the FPPC.

“It is unclear how perceived abuses would be best curbed by placing additional restrictions on only a portion of the individuals performing identical activity,” Remke wrote.

Such criticism was described as disingenuous by Gordon, who said he amended his bill last month to restrict disclosure to contract lobbyists at the FPPC’s suggestion. He added that many of those individuals are already registered lobbyists.

Current law requires individuals and entities to report lobbying of the Legislature or state regulations under the Political Reform Act. Gordon’s bill would expand the definition of lobbying to government procurement of $250,000 or more.

“The voters passed the Political Reform Act with a desire to see transparency in their government,” Gordon said. “Eleven billion dollars in contracts — we need transparency.”

Exactly how many contracts would be subject to Gordon’s bill is unclear because the term “procurement contract” has no clearly defined meaning in state contract law, DGS spokesman Brian Ferguson said.

 “We still have a fair number of questions about the scope of the bill — what is and isn’t covered,” Brian Ferguson wrote in an email to TechWire.

Gordon’s bill is awaiting a final vote on the Assembly floor before it heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The Assembly last year backed a more sweeping version of the bill, and it is unknown whether the FPPC’s opposition will cause lawmakers to reconsider their support. Gordon, who said he hopes to bring the bill to the floor in the next few weeks, expressed confidence his fellow lawmakers would support the policy of disclosure.

Brown has vetoed a series of bills over the last few years intended to make campaign finance disclosures and government data more accessible. Brown spokesman Gareth Lacy declined Wednesday to comment on the bill.

In addition to the FPPC’s opposition, the Department of Finance has said the bill would cost the state roughly $1.3 million to manage the increased workload associated with lobbyist and lobbying firm registrations and report filings at both the Secretary of State’s office and the FPPC.

This story was originally published by TechWire.

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