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Anaheim council tightens lobbyist rules

Orange County Register logo Orange County Register 9/15/2022 Alicia Robinson, The Orange County Register
Anahiem City Hall in Anaheim on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. © Leonard Ortiz/The Orange County Register/TNS Anahiem City Hall in Anaheim on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

Lobbying Anaheim officials about a project or policy without registering with the city or falsifying reports about lobbying activities or income are set to start carrying criminal penalties.

Acting as a lobbyist, but failing to register with the city; not filing reports as required; or filing inaccurate reports could result in a misdemeanor charge under new rules the Anaheim City Council unanimously supported Tuesday night – a second vote is required for the new rules to become law. Registered lobbyists will also have to attest under penalty of perjury that their reports are true and accurate; perjury is a felony charge under state law.

The tighter rules for lobbying are the first forward-looking reform the council has approved since May, when news broke that former Mayor Harry Sidhu and former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament were separately under federal investigation.

Ament pleaded guilty to several counts of fraud in July. In accompanying court filings, investigators painted a picture of a cadre of business and political leaders that may have exercised undue influence in city policies and decisions.

FBI investigators have alleged in separate court filings that Sidhu appeared to try to pass secret information during negotiations to sell Angel Stadium, with the intention of seeking $1 million in support for his reelection in November. Sidhu hasn’t been charged with a crime, and his attorney has said a fair and thorough investigation will clear him of those allegations. He did step down in May.

In the past few months, council members hired a firm to probe their own and Sidhu’s campaign donations for any “pay-to-play” schemes, but they also took several swings at crafting stricter campaign finance rules and couldn’t reach consensus.

On Tuesday, some council members wondered how any potential lobbying malfeasance would be handled and worried that someone who didn’t understand the rules or forgot to file a report could face criminal penalties. City Attorney Rob Fabela said his office already handles misdemeanor violations of city codes and doesn’t intend to prosecute honest mistakes.

The council’s decision also requires the city to automatically retain emails of council members and their staff and city executives for two years. The previous policy was to delete them from city servers after 90 days, with the onus on the council member or city staffer to save documents and correspondence they thought important or that might be needed later.

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