Lobbying Against Lobbying

It can't be a surprise to many folks that some current and former UNC employees on the Town Council are uncomfortable with the proposal to have people who are paid to lobby the Council register and document their activities. To me, their objection is further evidence of the need for better monitoring of lobbying activities.

To borrow some "logic" from red light camera supporters, you have nothing to be afraid of if you're not doing something wrong. This proposal won't stop local citizens from cornering their favorite Council member at the grocery store and bending their ear about a pet issue. It simply acknowledges the fact that there are now people, employees of both private and public entities, whose job it is to influence the Council. This is an evolving situation that should be addressed.

Fred Black raised the question of whether this is aimed solely at UNC. Although the group that brought it up is mostly concerned with UNC's lobbying, I think the recent activities of ACS appearing to pull Dorothy Verkerk's puppet strings makes it clear that this is needed to apply more broadly.

Since I have a full-time job and other committments, I don't have much time and energy to lobby the Council. I don't get to make private appointments with Council members, take them to football games, or shower them with promotional items as many of these lobbyists do. It seems to me that this propopal might help a little to level the playing field.




boy that's the truth, Fred. Thanks for that information.

I think too many lawyers have spent too many hours on this ordinance.

Someone needs to explain to me:

Why can an unpaid person lobby for an organization without registering while a paid person cannot?

Why do people who have higher pay have to register when people who get paid less don't?

Why does someone who owns a business get to lobby without registering while an employee of hers must?

Good idea Anita. As an alternative to the paper timesheet, we could have the council members record their meetings (of 15 minutes or longer, for example) on individual online calendars that are publicly available (view only). That would provide the kind of transparency I think some are wanting--and would also demonstrate to most of us how hard our council members work. The other reason I like this idea is that it isn't punitive to people who haven't done anything wrong, such as the majority of individuals who legitimately and openly lobby for their cause. The lobby legislation is a little too bureaucratic for my tastes, but asking council members to be accountable for their time and contacts sounds very legitimate and useful. (Sorry council members...I don't expect any of you to jump at this idea!).


I think my idea also makes it easier in the sense that we don't even need to worry about defining who is a lobbyist--if every contact is briefly reported, then every contact is documented.

Also, it will let us know just how much work our Town Council members are doing on our behalf and may help other people who want to run for council know what the time commitment is.

AND if we pay Council Members (and I am sorry I don't know whether we do or not) we will be better able to determine if the pay is commensurate with the amount of work expected. IT will probably help the Council members justify a pay increase!!!

The mayor's 2003-2004 salary is $18,625, and council members $11,143 per year. Clearly, they are not doing the job for the pay!

I think my idea also makes it easier in the sense that we don't even need to worry about defining who is a lobbyist--if every contact is briefly reported, then every contact is documented.

Also, it will let us know just how much work our Town Council members are doing on our behalf and may help other people who want to run for council know what the time commitment is.

AND if we pay Council Members (and I am sorry I don't know whether we do or not) we will be better able to determine if the pay is commensurate with the amount of work expected. IT will probably help the Council members justify a pay increase!!!

I think my idea also makes it easier in the sense that we don't even need to worry about defining who is a lobbyist--if every contact is briefly reported, then every contact is documented.

Also, it will let us know just how much work our Town Council members are doing on our behalf and may help other people who want to run for council know what the time commitment is.

AND if we pay Council Members (and I am sorry I don't know whether we do or not) we will be better able to determine if the pay is commensurate with the amount of work expected. IT will probably help the Council members justify a pay increase!!!

why doesn't the town council consider a "self regulation" ordinance? It would be much easier to monitor whether a half dozen or so people are accurately reporting their lobbying contacts than to try and enforce reporting for the literally thousands of businesses and non profits in Chapel HIll.

For example, each time a council member receives a call/email/letter/stop in the grocery store about town business from anyone, the date of the call, the person who called, and a brief comment about what was discussed could be recorded in a little notebook. These books could be turned in on a monthly basis to someone at Town Hall responsible for keeping this information. They could be reviewed by appointment by any member of the community.

It wouldn't be any more work than recording mileage and expenses, which I am sure they already do anyway. AND it would be much easier to manage, to ensure compliance, and since the Town Council are the ones who initiated the idea of full disclosure, they should be happy to comply.

Will, I appreciate your frustrations over this issue, but as I've said before, I see a larger issue. Good public policy should meet three tests in the main: is it ethical, is it efficient, and is it economical. The proposed ordinance meets the first but fails miserably on the other two.

As written, this will be a very expensive operation and filled with holes, raising again the operational cost to sort out all of the things Ginny raises with the non-profit representatives.

Yes, the public will know who is attempting to influence decisions and decision makers, and the decision makers will know the interests represented by those who contact them, but can’t we do that other ways and use that money the proposal will cost in better ways?

You say that, “At that time, I decided not to pursue that angle and stir up the council ala the current issues with Mr. Cook.” Maybe pursuing it might have been the right thing to do, and a lot more economical and efficient than the proposal on the table now.

Yep, sometimes it's hard to tease out casual lobbying from casual conversation. Sometimes it's not.

Does Robert Porter hide himself away in the Town Hall when the press comes to cover an event he's associated with?

Does Aaron Nelson give away gimgaws and knick-knacks while misrepresenting easily verifiable facts (supposed %40 reduction, no prior lobbying contacts,....) with the tacit support of Ms. Verkerk?

Does Stephen Dear work for a PR company fronting for a town vendor but (whoops) fails to mention that as he says his only interest is in representing their Astroturf organization?

Heck, it isn't like Delores Bailey lives in a D.C. suburb and flew down here to ask Chief Jarvies for more Northside protection. With ACS we're talking about some very clear lines of demarcation.

It's clear that in the cases you brought up (and many I'm aware of) these citizens don't operate in this fashion. From what I've seen, they all would easily acknowledge their motivations, whether private or public.

With ACS, we had four members tacitly supporting this type of 'shadow' lobbying. I've been told that under the current ethical guidelines the council is supposed to abide by, that at least two of the members probably crossed the line. At that time, I decided not to pursue that angle and stir up the council ala the current issues with Mr. Cook.

Now, in such a clear case, if a council member didn't have it within themselves to act appropriately (and still don't seem to believe that they need to apologize for their poor judgment) what are we to do?

You've tried to show, with what I think are somewhat strained examples, how interactions between citizens with dual-roles in our community and the council/town staff might lead to some technical violation. Why don't you propose some type of rule, guideline or ordinance that would have revealed ACS's surreptitious attempts to influence our council/town staff?

Do all sufficiently well-funded 'shadow' lobbyists for those with commercial or other interests before our town get to operate 'under the radar'?

Maybe if it's good enough for Cheney and company at the federal level, then maybe you think it's good enough for us at the local level?

Tonight's the night if anyone plans to weigh in on the ordinance.

Will: So can we agree that this ordinance does not accomplish what its proponents set out to do: catch UNC and ACS?

As I now read it, this ordinance would hurt nonprofits the most. It appears to set up roadblocks for paid staff members of nonprofits to contact Town officials and it pushes the burden of "lobbying" to board members and volunteers. Agencies that are already stretched thin for staff resources would be required to create and log additional paperwork to get anything accomplished at Town Hall or would have to ask board members and volunteers to take on more of the "lobbying" work.

An exercise: For each hypothetical, choose "lobbying" or "not lobbying."

1. Delores Bailey, as co-director of EmPOWERment Inc., asking Chief Gregg Jarvies for additional police patrols in Northside.

2. Delores Bailey, as a resident of Northside, asking Chief Gregg Jarvies for additional police patrols in Northside.

3. Phil Post asking Roger Waldon for clarification on a Special Use Permit as a civil engineer hired by Zinn Design Build.

4. Phil Post, as general partner in Phil Post and Associates, asking for changes to the Land Use Management Ordinance.

5. Chris Moran, as executive director of IFC, asking for additional money to support local social services.

6. Natalie Ammarell, as board chair of IFC, asking for additional money to support local social services.

7. Aaron Nelson, as executive director of the Chamber, asking for grant money for a Chamber member, El Centro Latino, to help train Spanish-speaking workers.

8. Aaron Nelson, as a board member of El Centro Latino, asking for grant money for El Centro Latino to help train Spanish-speaking workers.

9. Robert Dowling, as executive director of the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust, asking for additional Council funds to purchase property for the Land Trust.

10. Robert Dowling, as executive director of the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust, asking the Council to approve Habitat for Humanity’s Sunrise Road project.

11. Susan Levy, executive director of Habitat, asking the Council to approve the Sun Rise Road Project.

12. Doug Schworer, member of a local neighborhood association, asking the Council to vote no on the Sunrise Road Project.

13. Aaron Nelson, as executive director of the Chamber, talking with Town Finance Director about how to improve Parking Lot 5.

14. Stephen Dear, as executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, asking the Council to support a death penalty moratorium.

15. Stephen Dear, as a resident, asking the Council to not support a panhandling ordinance.

16. The Rev. J.R. Manley, as pastor of First Baptist Church, asking the Council for additional funds to support Manley Estates, an affordable housing option for the elderly.

17. The Rev. J.R. Manley, as pastor of First Baptist Church, asking the Council for better sidewalks on West Rosemary Street.

18. Mark Chilton, as a Carrboro Alderman, asking the Council to allocate more affordable housing money to community organizations.

19. Mark Chilton, as director of Community Realty, asking the Council to allocate more affordable housing money to community organizations

20. Scott Gardner, a Duke Power representative, as chair of the Greater Triangle Regional Council, asking the Council to support clean air initiatives.

21. Robert Porter, as chair of the Sierra Club, asking the Council to support clean air initiatives.

22. Aaron Nelson, as executive director of the Chamber, asking the Council to support clean air initiatives.

TThank you for bringing this back up Fred.

As I read the ordinance, my concerns vis-a-vis ACS (which seems to be having more problems: http://naowc-proxy.nandomedia.com/business/story/1272435p-7393958c.html

http://naowc-proxy.nandomedia.com/print/wednesday/city_state/story/1272165p-7393971c.html http://naowc-proxy.nandomedia.com/print/monday/city_state/story/1256893p-7368931c.html and http://www.charlotte.com/mld/observer/news/local/8760657.htm?1c ) and their successful attempts to influence some of our council. They reached out to our town manager, staff and consultants via many avenues: their AstroTurf organization, official associations, acquaintances, etc. in order to try to salvage their commercial contract with the town. Yet they tried to hide this from the public.

I can just imagine the AstroTurf National Campaign to Promote Redlight Cameras, run by ACS's PR firm, arguing that they're just private citizens with a forthright concern for improving this troubled companies bottom line - whoops, I mean minimally reducing one narrow type of accident that rarely happens in Chapel Hill.

Under this ordinance they might actually get away with that argument.

I'd like to see something that would snare these guys (and their ilk) and bring them to the light of day.

Way back in February on the initial thread on this topic, Dan Coleman, in answer to my question about what a paid lobbyist was, said: "A "paid lobbyist" is someone whose paid employment involves efforts to influence government officials.

The other night, the Town Attorney presented his proposed ordinance for consideration and the definition of a lobbyist. It states:

Lobbyist includes:

1. any individual who receives or becomes entitled to receive the threshold compensation during any calendar quarter or year for lobbying and who has had at least one direct communication with a Town official in a calendar quarter;

[Threshold compensation shall be set at $200 in any quarterly (three-month) reporting period or $800 in any one calendar year, including pro rated salary for the time spent on lobbying.]

2. in-house lobbyists who engage in lobbying as part of their regular employment responsibilities for their employer and for which they receive a salary from that employer, at least some part of which is compensation for their lobbying work;

3. individuals under contract to engage in lobbying; and,

4. individuals employed by a firm under contract to provide lobbying services.

You can read the proposed ordinance at:


Note the long list of exemptions, including UNC. I am still convinced that the time and money that will be expended on this ordinance (if approved) far exceeds the problem.

Given that you fear a discussion where you identify yourself, you are pretty bold to make gross assumptions about what I understand or don't understand. I have made no comments about the 1st Amendment. I provided a link to an editorial related to this thread. I offered no judgment of it.

When you desire to come out of hiding and have an intelligent discussion, let me know.

Wooden fingers make Freudian slip. "You taught WHAT in your previous life?" and "Was it Wanting?"

Peachy to be speechy.

Love your avoid-dance around the message.


Pity the students. Then if you were indeed teaching lobbying, you could have answered: Of the five freedoms in the First Ammendment, three have been considered by courts when looking at cases that constrict lobbying. Speech gets only a brief mention, because as one Justice put it: 'This is about money and not about speech.' But also because the Speech right is a right to speak in public. The next least mentioned but a Freedom considered would be that of the Right to Assemble Peacefully. Certainly citizens can organized and elect representatives to speak for them. A lobbying law would be hard pressed to curtail that -- despite the misinterpretations seen earlier in this thread. That leave us with the Right to Petition for Redress of Grievences (not bothering to switch to spell check here). Of course, citizens should be able to Petition, which is most often read as "lobbying." The question is how open should this petitioning be? Not so hard to get at, any citizen may petition, but when that petitioning in on the behalf of an employer experiences has shown that accountability is best served by a little sunshine.

Since newspapers are the Fourth Estate and their job is to provide some of the Sun-shine, one might expect the Herald-Sun to be behind open government and accountability. If not, then why?

And why Phred are you intent on 1) getting the last word on every thread on which you post and 2) avoiding getting at the bigger question?


We love you. But the right that should be protected here -- and the Herald writer is wrong too -- is not speach. Speach is protected as a public performance. You and your constitutionally naive Heraldist mean the oft misunderstood right of redress. I know it's confusing since they're both in Ammendment One, but they are diferent. Redress addresses lobbying.

But even so, the right to represent your employer in an attempt to influence elected officials is restricted all over by state, federal and in many areas local regulations.

You taught want in your previous life?

Mr. "D" I suggested that you read it; didn't suggest that you had to agree with it. Interesting that you know that I agree with it; how is that?

Are you talking about "speech?" Alo, please clarify "taught want." I hope that I'm still in the same life!

Will, I don't see what any ordinance will do in a timely matter for you other than give you a good feeling that we have created another layer of bureaucracy. Take another look at Ginny's post and consider her perspective as a practitioner. Given what you feel happened in the ACS case just doesn't convince me that there is a problem requiring more bureaucracy and costly procedures.

It's worth reading the editorial in this morning's H-S on the proposed lobbying law process.


"The next move is up to Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos, who's trying to draft a rule that satisfies the council's wishes and upholds the Constitution's guarantee of free speech."

Fred - you can't legislate ethics and morality - right? Or is that RIGHT?

Joking aside - breaking the public's trust isn't a high crime - it's just sad and disappointing. And maybe my disappointment in our local leaders has distorted my sense of what can and cannot be accomplished.

Sure, I'm politically naive (probably the most naive of anyone posting here), but it doesn't seem like much to ask for some kind of mechanism to let us, the general citizenry, know what group or business might've influenced the thinking of our council.

Any group, even ACS, has the right to contact our council and try to sway their opinion. Considering though, as a group, they potentially wield so much more influence than we, the individual citizen, it only seems fair that they have to meet a higher level of transparency in their interactions (i.e. don't hide in the Town Hall conference room during an orchestrated PR event).

Do you think that there is any possible mechanism - short of self-regulation (which seemed to fail in the ACS case) - which could ensure, let's say, %75 transparency? Or should I tag-n-bag my hopes for Chapel Hill's open and transparent governance?

Will, I can't wait to read the wording of the ordinance that will do what you desire. I still say that if you truly believe that those public officials violated some law, policy or trust, you ought to take whatever action you can. All legislated "solutions" just aren't.

I'm still not convinced of the value of all this. When Virginia

Knapp or Aaron Nelson from the CofC, or Bruce Runberg

of UNC, or Rev Rick Edens of the United Church speaks in

front of the town council in public or meets in private with

one of them, it is well-known who they are and whom they

represent. What would be the benefit of their signing a form

and paying a fee? What new knowledge would the town citizens

or the council members get? If we can't specify a public

benefit, then it's just an unnecessary exercise.

Joe, here's two benefits I would've had:

1) Incontrovertible proof that the town, ACS and (by omission) Ms. Verkerk's claim to have not been in contact with ACS's lobbyist was wrong.

2) Finding out earlier that ACS's lobbyists were organizing a PR event with Mr. Ward and Ms. Verkerk's support. This forewarning might've given the media sufficient time to probe and illuminate what, I think, was an improper relationship with a town vendor.

Ms. Verkerk, Ms. Whiggins, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Ward broke their public trust by participating in a PR event solely designed by the vendor, I think, to retain their contract with the town. In breaking that trust, they opened the door to requiring a much closer scrutiny of their contacts.

I, and others, would feel better about this ACS issue if these four came forward and admitted they used poor judgement in this case and explained what concrete steps they are taking to avoid this type fiasco again. It really sucks that their behavior will end up tarring all contacts, no matter how innocent, they have with town vendors and those with business before the council.

Barring that mea culpa and other self-imposed restrictions, the lobbying ordinance is a solution - maybe a weakened solution - that could restore some confidence that backdoor dealing isn't happening (or that some PR flack isn't hiding in the closet orchestrating their statements).

Ginny echoes an important point. By law (federal and state law) nonprofits are required to report their lobbying activities and how much they spend on it (as a matter of complying with the rules of 501c3 designation), and the law does not distinguish between those lobbying on behalf of business owners, and those lobbying on behalf of the homeless. There's a threshold amount of money that an organization has to spend in order to trigger the reporting requirement, but the principle that nonprofits are treated equally as potential "lobbyists" should be noted.

FYi: "The committee charged with studying a proposed ordinance that would require paid lobbyists to register with the town will draw up concrete legislation before summer hits Chapel Hill."



Since it is not as clear to some as it is to you that there is in fact a problem requiring an ordinance, I think the next step might be to punch up the policy we have now, rather than try to write a meaningful and effective ordinance.

What can be done? I guess short of recall you could petition for a council censure resolution, it you think something improper was done.

Deep apologies for the delay. Alas, my job is more than wining and dining power brokers all day. For ince: trying to find people to sit at our booth during Apple Chill. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Duncan, the Chamber's never had anyone "tell" us we have to register, but we all know how ignorance rates as a defense. I think that the registration rule applies only if you are lobbying on the state level, but I'll try to find someone to clarify.

To Will's question: I'm perfectly willing to register as a lobbyist. That's really not the question though; it's the principle of the thing.

I think reporting requirements create a burden that does little to actually increase the transperancy of how our town government works. What is the goal we're trying to accomplish here? Increased information about how decisions are made in local government.

How do we go about that? The Council mentioned a couple of ways the other night: 1. Register lobbyists and require them to report their contacts with town elected officials and staff. 2. Post Council members' calendars online so that people could see what they are up to. Ordinance vs. ethical guidelines.

Ordinance = Bureaucracy. And I say this as someone who actually likes to read things like comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. One of the councilpersons made a comparison between reporting requirements for lobbyists and campaign finance reports. How much good does it do anybody 3 months after the fact?

You could argue, "Well, registration gets people on the record. Then we know who the invisible hands pulling the levers of power are around here."

Where are the other minions I'm supposed to be plotting town domination with? I've tried counting when I'm wide awake in the middle of the night, and the best I can do is me, Aaron, the utilities' local relations folks, and every other nonprofit staff person paid to advocate for their clients. (more on this later) That's assuming any ordinance can be written to exempt small business owners advocating on behalf of their own businesses.

I cannot be convinced that the ACS case is anything other than the exception that proves the rule, which is: There is not a plague of lobbyists overrunning Town Hall. ACS is an incredibly weak example to use to make the case for a lobbying ordinance. Fortunately our Council members are smarter than the average bear, and most of them knew who was really calling when the National Coalition of Red-Light Camera Companies Hiring a D.C. Public Relations Firm to Make Their Case rang. A lobbying ordinance will do no more to inform the public than a simple Google search in cases like ACS. (On the subject of red-light cameras, I stand firmly undecided and just on this side of completely uncaring. Please do not flame me from either side.)

But back to the nonprofit point: How do Chris Moran at IFC, Hector Perez at El Centro, Michele Rivest at Orange County Partnership for Young Children, Robert Dowling at OCHCLT and Aaron Nelson at the Chamber differ when it comes to lobbying? They don't. They are all paid on the behalf of a nonprofit organization to lobby for the benefit of their clients. Come to think of it, wouldn't church pastors fall into this category too? So far none of the discussion has been about how nonprofit staff would be affected.

And since I'm sure you're all on the edges of your seats, I'll tell you: If we gotta do something, let's do ethical guidelines. BIG CAVEAT: I don't think any of the past, current or possibly even future Council members need them. I respect their honesty and integrity. They do things I disagree with and would challenge, but in general I think they are some of the best caliber of public officials in the quality and thoughtfulness of their discussions. And I'm not just kissing up.

If we feel like we need to, set some standards and ask every Council member to sign up. So maybe putting a calendar online is burdensome, but let's figure out someway to do it.

Third option: We do nothing, because this is not really a problem that needs legislating.

Respectfully submitted,


Fred, other than recall (which seems a little much for Ms. Verkerk's transgression) what other disciplinary actions are available?

Since the level of consciousness has been raised for the council members, I think it would be better to give them the opportunity to change their behavior before setting up legal mandates. I recommend adopting a policy about lobbying first before going to legislation. Ordinances require enforcement criteria which generally necessitates additional bureaucracy.

Duncan, even in Washington there is a murky area between a vendor/contractor working with an agency or department to explain, advocate or advance the project that they are being paid to do and when they are "lobbying" the people who are paying them. I don't think any vendor should have blanket immunity. But the last thing that we need is DC-type rules that actually solve nothing in this regard. After all, some of the people who wrote the rules become the members of the power law firms (lobbyist) who oversee any revisions or block reform efforts.

I also agree with you about the question that gives you fits. Sometimes, in our attempt to craft legislative solutions, we end up with a "cure" that's worse than the disease. And if there was improper behavior by one or more council members in their dealings with ACS, maybe those who believe it should seek disciplinary action through the means that are already available.


Ginny's post on the other thread -- besides begging the answer, "No Virginia, you are not evil. But Santa Claus is." -- raises another question, if only in my mind: aren't organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, and indeed,

most nonprofits, already required to register by state and federal law? I've been trying to figure this out (on behalf of another nonprofit), and I can't decide whether the following applies to all nonprofits who lobby, or just those who lobby the Legislature. (From the Center for Nonprofits):

"Anyone who’s compensated to lobby on behalf of your nonprofit must register with the N.C. Secretary of State (N.C.G.S. 120-47.1(6)) before conducting any lobbying activities. This includes staff and contract lobbyists. Volunteers who aren’t paid and citizens lobbying on their own behalf are not required to register. The registration covers the two-year legislative cycle, regardless of when you register (e.g., whether you register January 2, 2003 or June 30, 2004, the registration is good until the end of the 2004 session).

To register, each lobbyist should complete a registration statement, pay the $200 registration fee, and file an authorization statement to act as a lobbyist on behalf of your nonprofit. A separate statement, fee, and authorization are required for each organization (or “principal”) that a lobbyist represents. Lobbyists and the organizations they represent must file expense reports by the end of each year."

There's a 1976 Federal law that applies to 501c3 certified organizations, which covers lobbying activities and what must be declared.

Where are the nonprofit lawyers when you need them?

I agree. I think it _is_ possible to craft an ordinance that would cover operations like ACS's, and I think you're right to suggest that the town start with what it knows it _can_ do, and work out from there.

And before anyone protests that vendors like ACS should have blanket immunity _because_ they're doing business with the town ... if such a rule applied in Washington there would be very little reason to register lobbyists at all.

Duncan, a very good point about town vendors.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when I ask the council to consider asking Duke Power to replace the high-wattage streetlights that they have deployed in town for those that provide the same (hopefully more directed) luminance at a %25 reduction in electricity use.

Surely Duke Power might not want us to cut our power bill.

What do we do if they try to lobby to keep the more wasteful fixtures? Shouldn't we require that type of communication with staff and council be made public? Or do they get a pass because they are a well-established vendor? Obviously not.

Duncan, I agree it could be very difficult to distinguish between a friendly talk between neighbors and a subtle pitch.

We would have to rely on the person 'lobbying' to make this distinction (surely they would know the difference). I believe the personal integrity of most people will guide the interactions.

And, of course, a council member or staff member could always express their discomfort with where a conversation was going if they felt it went over the line and disengage.

That said, ACS represents a whole class of lobbying that doesn't have these entanglements. They were town vendors, they had a clear profit-motive in influencing the council, they brought in their hired-guns from D.C., they used 'back-channel' communications to privately contact staff and members, they tried to trade on a personal relationship of the town manager, they orchestrated a PR event, etc.

Could the line be any clearer?

Why don't we start with an ordinance that regulates these type contacts and work from there?


Your last few paragraphs raises a question that continues to give me fits: what do you do about people who, in addition to being in the employ of the university, happen to live in Chapel Hill? Because they're citizens, I still don't see how an ordinance could require them to jump through the extra hoops of registration and reporting without violating their individual rights. Even if they're paid to do a job that includes talking to government officials on various matters, how do you distinguish their ordinary petitions to the government from their work-related petitions, without some sort of unconstitutional content test?

(Ex.: Vice Chancellor John Doe is always considered a lobbyist when talking to council members about hazardous waste issues, but not about anything else. Is John Doe lobbying when he participates in a meeting with city staff about hazardous waste cleanup issues common to both the city and university? Or just when the issue is something that might, at some point in the future, be voted upon by the Council? And what if John Doe has strong feelings about a hazardous waste issue as both an employee _and_ a citizen? Does he automatically lose his right to petition the government as an ordinary citizen -- without having to register and report his contact -- because of the content of his petition? )

I raised this once before, but the Madison ordinance specifically exempts anyone, regardless of who employs them, who petitions their own elected representative. That avoids the equal protection problems, I think.

As you point out, it's much easier to pick out a lobbyist when they're working for an outside entity and paid specifically to lobby the Council.

A quick note about the meeting last night. The council decided to possibly study this a little more before passing it off to the town attorney to be formalized as an ordinance.

Councilmember Wiggins proposed a more timely reporting of contacts and the idea that council members post their calendars on the 'net. It was pointed out by several members that puts the onus on the wrong people. Speaking of 'net', she kept reiterating that UNC shouldn't be caught in the lobbyist registration and contact reporting net.

The CNC put forth a proposed ordinance which, I guess, will appear in the minutes. I'd like to see their proposal.

I'd also like to see a definition of lobbyists that would include direct lobbyists (those whose job is to lobby), organizations like ACS's Astroturf group and secondary-lobbyists acting on behalf of a primary principal (say some construction company associated with building at UNC/North lobbying for UNC's position).

These lobbyists should register with the town and report, in a timely manner, their contact with both STAFF and COUNCIL. Staff plays a huge role in decision making (the sole role in many cases) and lobbying of them should be reported. Timely should be at least bi-monthly, though monthly would be great.

The contacts requiring reporting should include any 'off-camera' meetings, phone calls, emails, etc.

Finally, there should be some punishment associated with violating the ordinance. Say a lobbyists organization contacted a member but didn't report it, and, later, it was discovered - what happens? Or, let's say, a member of the council was well aware of the lobbyist contact and allowed the town, the lobbyist or the principal the lobbyist represented to misrepresent or deny the contact - what should happen to the member?

To this last point, ACS and the town staff asserted that there were no lobbying efforts to retain the RLCs, but Councilmember Verkerk was indeed in contact with the lobbying arm of ACS Should she be censured? Should she apologize to the citizenry for not correcting this misrepresentation? Or, should she only have to defend this impropriety at the next election? What consequences for the staff? Should ACS's denial have any repercussions?

If we had had a registration and contact tracking ordinance last summer, we wouldn't have had to wait nearly six months to hear from Councilmember Verkerk, contrary to what the town and ACS reported, that, yes, she had been working with ACS's PR agent. We could've asked her and Councilmembers Ward, Whiggins and Harrision about their contacts in near 'real-time'. Councilmember Whiggins, last night, to my knowledge for the first time, said she'd been pestered by ACS's lawyer's phone calls - to the point of irritation! Why did we have to hear that only now? No doubt the reporting would've help, at the least, cast the debate in a different light and, possibly, raised a public outcry for these members to clearly explain their allegiances.

Councilmember Greene put it well when she call the ACS incident the 'canary in the coal mine'. With ACS, four of our members (one notably) stepped on the canary and squashed the life out of it.

Last night I pointed out that the ACS experience, unlike UNC, was clear cut. Heck, this wasn't our neighbors and friends that work for UNC - people that might either be having a friendly conversation about UNC proposals or subtly pitching for UNC.

Nope - instead we were dealing with an out-of-state, multi-billion dollar business, a town vendor, whose sole intent was to retain their contract. ACS's PR tactics were well known, the council and staff had been apprised of them, yet these members played right along with the vendor.

There couldn't of been a better test of the council's ability to self-regulate their behavior. A test, unfortunately, several of our members failed miserably. I believe they broke the public trust. Sadly, we need to create clear, measurable, guidelines so that we can do the Reaganesque 'trust, but verify' with our council.

I hope that those of you following this issue come forward and help the town craft a workable ordinance.

A registered lobbyist and a Mayor all at once. I am sure if some other Mayor was a paid lobbyist for the nuke plant in Raleigh at the same time, you would have no problem with that either?

I too am glad Mike Nelson got a real job! It also sounds like a good cause.


The question is one of transparency. If Mr. Nelson went around denying his association while trying to influence policy, that's a problem. If he, like Ms. Verkerk, denied the improper influence a town vendor was wielding over policy-making, that's a problem.

Instead, Mr. Nelson has been very clear about his allegiances. I'm sure he will continue to exhibit transparency in his dealings. Heck, maybe by his example some of our problematic Chapel Hill council members will learn to be a little more clear in discussing their allegiances.

Simon, how would you classify Councilman Verkerk's not correcting the town's and ACS's answers to my clear and direct questions about ACS's lobbying efforts?

I asked, specifically, what council members or town employees had been contacted and lobbied on the RLC issue. I was told that none were, yet it turns out that wasn't the case.

I agree I wouldn't want to put many barriers between our council and any person wanting to come before them to discuss an issue.

But, and this is a big one, when the town's staff and the council is specifically asked about lobbying efforts and they deny them, well, what are we to do?

If Councilman Verkerk hadn't told me about these contacts, how else would I find out about therm? Obviously ACS had no problem denying the facts, who else am I to turn to?

My guess is that if an organization like this had to register, they'd think twice about denying their lobbying efforts. And, if they denied them, as was the apparent case with ACS, they'd be liable for their denial.

Mayor Mike Nelson becomes a professional lobbyist and not a word from this crowd?!?


Well Todd, what's to say? It doesn't have much to do with this issue since he'll be an official, registered lobbyist in Raleigh, not a state employee who leans on elected officials informally.

I'm really happy for Mike and the Conservation Council - it's a good thing all 'round.

I'm not a big fan of requiring people to register before lobbying. Redress of grievances, strict scruitiny, and all that.

Surely it's better to place the burden of disclosure on the council members. They can relate any meetings or discussions they may have had that they believe might have affected their decision. A serious failure to make a disclosure should be grounds for recall, or if the disclosure is sworn to, prosecution for perjury.

Hi y'all,

Everybody who contacts a council member is selling an idea,

whether it's in public at the podium during a council meeting

or in (semi) private over lunch at Breadman's. That's true for

UNC administration people, for neighborhood activists, and

real estate developers. The only difference is that some people

are paid for it and some aren't.

When someone whom I didn't know would call me and ask to meet

me for lunch and discuss an issue, I would often accept the

invitation. But after we sat down, the first thing that I

would ask is what their role in the issue is and what their

organization was. And if I didn't get straight-up, non-evasive answers, the meeting ended, meal uneaten.

We all recognize personal bias. We all knew who makes money from council actions and who is defending his quality of

neighborhood life. We realize

that when a lawyer in a 3-piece suit is standing at the podium

representing a developer, that he is being paid two hundred

bucks an hour to attend and speak at the meeing,

while the neighborhood activist doesn't make a dime.

Though I tried hard to listen equally to all points of view,

my bias was to give the benefit of the doubt

to the person who was NOT wearing the suit.

Finally, all elected officials as well have their biases, and they

express them during campaigns. The voters choose

who they want, with their biases, to represent them.

Ruby, I'm all for "ethical guidelines." I believe that we have them, as it has not been shown that we need more. If the committee working on this makes the case that we do need more, then that's another thing. I fear that just as with other laws like campaign finance (note that these two laws usually travel together), we will end up with nothing but definitional issues that will require constant effort to solve rather than an effective new public policy. Will's comments above show to me just that problem. I also am unconvinced that we have a problem with UNC administrators that some want to call "paid" lobbyist . Using the example from Madison, if that university registers their lobbyists (one, three, how many?) out of goodwill, but it is not required to do so, what's wrong with relying on just goodwill and following the laws that we already have?

In trying to learn more about this, I found it interesting the the City of Oakland, CA, Public Ethics Commission staff reported that they currently have 24 registered lobbyists in Oakland. Twenty-fou registered lobbyists in that big city? And a commission? In an effort to improve their law, the staff was directed to look at what was done in other jurisdictions. Not suprising was their need to work on the definitional issues. Read the (short) report at:


Guess we would have to create another citizens committee too!

And I could not help but notice that in Madison, one must submit their signed Registration Form to the Office of the City Clerk, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Rm. 103, Madison, WI 53703-3342.

Nice street name for the street where the local government is located!

I'd like to make it clear that my remarks were restricted only to the question of the activities of UNC officials, and not the registration of other lobbyists (to include outside lobbyists hired by the university for the purpose of lobbying, if such people/groups exist). I'm not sure what positive effects registering University officials would have. (When I say, "I'm not sure," I mean that I haven't heard of any, not that I think there couldn't be any.)

Other people/entities paid to lobby on behalf of others? I'd love to see them register, and I can think of many positive effects, not the least of which is making known to the public who is paying whom to say what, when.

In looking at the Madison ordinance and the reporting forms, I can see how it would make the legislative process in Chapel Hill much more open. But I can also see how it might become a mess. For instance, if the town and the university form a Town-Gown committee, and one of the university's registered "lobbyists" -- say, Bruce Runberg -- is appointed to the committee, do those meetings constitute "lobbying communications"? And what if Runberg follows up on a meeting by calling on one of his fellow committee members to hash out some things? Is that a lobbying communication?

Madison makes one crucial exemption that we would have to modify if we wanted an ordinance to apply to the University in a meaningful way. They exempt contacts with one's own alderperson, even if you're paid to make that contact. If we made the same exception, any University employee or lobbyist who lives in Chapel Hill would be exempt from registering, since our members are elected at large. (Does Madison elect by wards?) I wonder what their reasoning is? I imagine you could make an equal protection argument to support that exception. Would any of the lawyers lurking like to address this question? Their exception addresses my earlier question -- how do you distinguish between "employee" and "citizen" -- by sidestepping it.

There's a very useful explanation of how the Madison ordinance works in practice, with many examples, here:


I think it's pretty clear that the Madison ordinance isn't really the best example of what could be done here in Chapel Hill, and perhaps we should quit focusing on it. Maybe we should just let the Council's committee do its work and gather information on aspects of lobbying law and other ordinances.

Mike, if you read my original post it is extremely clear that the proposal is aimed at people who are PAID to influence the Council, and not regular citizens lobbying for their own causes. I don't have the patience to repeat myself, so please read it again.

The proposal asks for "ethical guidelines." I haven't heard any of you skeptics make any cases against that. What are you opposed to?

Actually Ruby I think the wording of your original post is a little confusing. From reading the newspaper reports, etc., I thought the stimulus for the lobbying regulation was the report of university personnel being "partnered" with a council member. Those are people paid by the university, but whose job is not necessarily defined as lobbyist. ACS may be the same situation. There is a difference between people who are paid for one service (primary job responsibility) and assume some "PR" or "educational" activities in certain situation, and people who are paid to lobby. If I go to any of my state representatives to ask them to consider new educational legislation, I'm not a lobbyist--I'm just an educator lobbying for something I want the representative to support. Sorry to nitpick.....but defining and clarifying terminology sometimes helps discussion proceed forward instead of constantly circling back on itself.

I too would like to understand what this lobbying requirement would achieve. I haven't been able to find the Madison WI regulations but I did find the state of Wisconsin guide to lobbying and they define lobbying in terms of compensation: http://ethics.state.wi.us/Forms-Publications/Guidelines/510-3Rs.pdf. How would lobbying be defined in Chapel Hill? Are there state of NC guidelines that already apply?



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