Council Balks At Request To Identify Suspected Lobbyists

April 12, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Council members said last week they will not rat on people who may be violating the county ethics law.

Rabbi Kenneth Cohen, Ethics Commission chairman, told the council Thursday that the commission would like the council, after each meeting, to provide it with names of suspected lobbyists.

Compliance with the request would help the commission "adequatelyenforce the lobbying provisions" of the ethics law, Cohen said.

County law defines lobbyists as people who spend $100 or more to provide meals, entertainment or gifts to county officials or employees or their families in any calendar year. People who pay or are paid $500 or more in a calendar year to influence legislative action are lobbyists also. Lobbyists are required to register with the Ethics Commission by Jan. 1 or within five days of their lobbying activity.

Many lobbyists are testifying before the council without registering, Cohen said. He added that only 30 people have registered as lobbyists this year -- most of them with the Rouse Co.

"There are probably dozens of law firms with lobbyists who aren't registered," he said.

Cohen said he did not believe anyone was intentionally violating the law. Some people may not know about it, he said. If the council would identify suspected lobbyists, the commission could "follow up with a letter" and inform the person of the filing requirements, Cohen said.

"I'm not about to send you the names of people I believe to be lobbyists," said Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th. "Almost everyone who comes before us is a lobbyist. I don't want to make it any easier for people to be scrutinized by government."

Cohen said the legal definition of lobbyist was restricted to specific dollar amounts.

Cohen asked council members to remind constituents of the lobbyist requirement when lunching with them. He said the commission wants a statement read aloud before each council meeting that says "anyone planning to testify on behalf of another individual, group, organization orbusiness may be required to register as a lobbyist under county law," and that lobbyists who fail to register may be subject to criminal and civil penalties.

Violators are subject to fines of up to $1,000, a year in jail, or both.

Council members agreed with Feaga thatit is not their function to police people who testify. They said they would place a poster outside the hearing room to alert lobbyists ofthe need to register with the commission.

The council told Cohen it would alter its sign-up sheets to distinguish between the names ofpeople testifying on behalf of others from the names of people testifying on their own behalf.

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