Letter to Ethics Commission re: Lobbying Ordinance

 

March 6, 2023 

 

Ethics Commission 
City of Long Beach 
Long Beach, CA

Sent Via Electronic Mail 

RE: Comments Re: Proposal to Include Non-profit Organizations in Long Beach’s Lobbying Ordinance, LBMC CH. 2.08 

Dear Commissioners, 

Please accept these comments regarding the proposal to include non-profit organizations in Long Beach’s Lobbying Ordinance, LBMC CH. 2.08. This letter is submitted by the undersigned non-profit organizations and allies who are extremely concerned about the possibility of eliminating the non-profit exemption from the City’s Lobbying Ordinance and expanding the scope of the Ordinance to include “advocacy.” While we support greater transparency in government, non-profit organizations should continue to be exempted from the City’s Lobbying Ordinance for the following reasons. 

1. As 501(c)(3) organizations, we already report our lobbying work to the federal government and we have limits on lobbying imposed by the federal government. 

As you likely are aware, 501(c)(3) organizations are unique in that they already have strict lobbying restrictions placed upon them by the federal government. For example, 501(c)(3)’s cannot spend more than approximately 20% of their expenditures on lobbying activities. These organizations are very careful not to exceed the various limitations, as the penalty includes not only fines, but also losing tax exempt status. As it currently stands, many 501(c)(3)’s are already so concerned about violating tax laws, that they severely limit, or even prohibit, their own lobbying activity. This is a disservice to the process of developing public policy and collaborating with trusted messengers who can achieve shared goals. These organizations are often the only voice for marginalized and low-income communities. Making such organizations jump over yet another hurdle, to register and report as local lobbyists, is likely to have a very chilling effect on their participation in public debate and collaboration. 

While we understand the Commission’s desire to be fair, treating all organizations the same, irrespective of their legal structure, is not equal or fair in this circumstance. Non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations are already more transparent than other legal entities. Annual reports, such as the IRS 990 form, include information about lobbying and are publicly available records. 

The larger issue at play in this debate should be who influences public policy via access to public officials. It is systematically difficult for low income and marginalized communities to have their voices heard, and eliminating the non-profit exemption will further tie the hands of the organizations that help make that possible. Therefore, we urge you to maintain the existing non-profit exemption. 

2. The City of Long Beach’s reporting requirements (both the existing requirements and the proposed amendments) are different from the federal government’s reporting requirements. Non-profits do not have capacity to juggle multiple and conflicting reporting requirements. 

Non-profit organizations are understaffed, overburdened, and simply do not have the capacity to comply with multiple and conflicting lobbying requirements. The impact of the proposed amendments would be that non-profits withdraw from local lobbying, advocacy, and collaborative efforts because they are worried about losing their tax-exempt status. The City would therefore no longer benefit from our voices in the public arena, in which we help to lift up the voices of disenfranchised and marginalized residents. 

The proposed amendments to add advocacy and preparation time into the City’s Lobbying Ordinance, for example, are in direct conflict with our federal reporting requirements. Including preparation time in the City’s ordinance also seems punitive for non-profits, as we do not have the resources and systems in place that paid lobbyists have and preparation takes significant time for us. Moreover, preparation work with community members, many of whom are limited English speakers, takes a significant amount of time as well. 

3. As non-profits, we do not have any financial incentive or gain when we lobby, as we are lobbying alongside and on behalf of marginalized communities. 

Non-profits are distinct from special interest paid lobbyists because our mission is to serve communities in need, not to turn a profit. For example, our work includes advocacy and lobbying relating to improving the City’s Language Access Policy, so that Limited English Proficient (LEP) residents have greater access to the City’s meetings, vital documents, and services. Our work includes advocacy and lobbying relating to housing policies, to help ensure that low-income renters live in habitable housing and that they do not become displaced and unhoused. And, our work includes budget advocacy to ensure that City funds are allocated in an equitable manner, to reflect the needs of Long Beach residents left out of previous budget decisions. Unlike paid lobbyists, non-profits do not engage in lobbying to make money, further corporate interests, or further their own individual profiles, but to serve their missions of helping people regardless of the immediate outcome. Creating more barriers and intimidation for organized groups of low-income and marginalized communities to be part of the democratic process is a direct effort to keep the voices of people who are historically left out and often overlooked out of decision making. 

Conclusion 
The proposal to remove the non-profit exemption from the ordinance will have a chilling impact on 501(c)(3) participation in local government because we do not have the staff, capacity, or time to juggle another reporting requirement. While the COVID-19 state of emergencies have expired within government, the needs within low-income and marginalized communities have not. On the heels of this devastating global pandemic, which hit our staff, community members, and organizations in a disproportionate manner, the City should not saddle us with another bureaucratic and confusing reporting requirement that will stifle our participation in government. We participate in lobbying to help underserved and under-represented communities have a voice in government. We do not participate for personal gain or to turn a profit, therefore we should not be treated the same as the paid lobbyists hired by special interest. 

Long Beach should continue to exempt non-profits from its Lobbying Ordinance, just as the following other cities in California currently do: San Jose; San Francisco; Carson; Clovis; Desert Hot Springs; Fresno; Gardena; Lancaster; Manhattan Beach; Santa Clara City; Santa Clara County; San Joaquin County; Santa Rosa City; and Los Angeles, which has a limited exception for certain 501(c)(3)s. 

Thank you for your consideration of our comments. 

Sincerely, 

AOC7 Neighborhood Association 
California Nurses Association 
Filipino Migrant Center 
Khmer Girls in Action 
LA Voice 
Long Beach Area Peace Network 
Delantero de Long Beach 
Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition 
Long Beach Residents Empowered 
North Pine Neighborhood Association 
Teachers Association of Long Beach 
The Nonprofit Partnership 
Walk Long Beach

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