Let's All Go to the Lobby
It pays to advertise, the advertising community claims. But when it comes to letting the public know about City Hall influence-peddling, "silence is golden" is the motto of two firms seeking city approvals for big-bucks advertising contracts.
City Hall's professional persuaders are required to register as lobbyists, report how much they spend on their efforts and list what legislation they seek to massage. Companies that make their own pitch to city officials face the same requirements.
But there's an old-fashioned way of accomplishing the same thing: spreading campaign contributions and hiring politically connected muscle boys, but not filing as an influence-seeker. That's the method of the folks who sought to build a flashing billboard (not the "Jumbotron") on a Union Square building. (Small world department: Imelda Marcos formerly owned the building.)
The outfit, Patrick Media, shelled out over $17,000 in political largess to local candidates in the last two election cycles, including contributions to nine of the Board of Supervisors' 11 incumbent supervisors. Its in-house pitcher is George Broder, Jordan appointee to the prestigious SF Stadium, Inc., once an aide on Dianne Feinstein's mayoral staff and the son of Washington Post columnist/reporter David Broder.
The campaign contribution/muscle boy technique has worked well for other Patrick Media ventures. At the same time Patrick Media sought a contract to place ads on BART cars, the company was also giving BART board members thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Last year Patrick Media presented the handsome sum of $1,700 to James Fang for his BART board re-election. Patrick Media won the contract.
At City Hall, one of the two supervisors who didn't get a campaign contribution from Patrick Media was Sup. Sue Bierman.
Broder is well aware that Bierman was passed over and archly noted that it was no oversight.
"That was an appropriate recognition of her history on the Planning Commission, not being a receptive person on any kind of sign-age," says Broder.
How right Broder is: Bierman led the successful board fight a few weeks ago for a one-year Union Square billboard moratorium that has frozen Patrick Media's plans.
Although Patrick Media wants to build an advertising-supported electric billboard in Union Square, it doesn't broadcast its presence in San Francisco as is required by law. It refuses to register as an influence-peddler here, although it does do so in Los Angeles and at the state Capitol, where nearly identical lobbyist laws are on the books.
"Christ, he's in this building all the time," one City Hall aide says of Broder. "He's certainly been diligent."
But Broder says neither he nor Patrick Media should register as lobbyists.
"My understanding of the San Francisco law is that it wouldn't be required. I didn't hire an outside lobbyist. In my capacity, for one week, I found myself at the Board of Supervisors," Broder says.
As far as the company's satchel of political contributions goes, Broder says, "If success is any measure, our lobbying efforts speak for themselves." With that, he was off for another round of lobbying, uh, "negotiating" over how City Hall will regulate signs in the post-moratorium period.
Patrick Media's nonregistered lobbyist is a 40-watt bulb in the political firmament compared to human floodlight John Burton, assemblyman and heir to the Burton family dynasty. Burton is the mouthpiece for another firm doing city business specializing in advertising signs. And he isn't registered as a lobbyist.
Transportation Displays Inc. (TDI) won a multimillion-dollar contract for the ads in (and on) Muni buses in 1991. They just completed negotiations with Muni for a contract extension now slated to go before the Board of Supervisors for approval, and just last week the company suddenly dropped in to register its lobbying activities.
What doesn't show up on the reports -- at least at first blush -- is Burton's role sweet-talking supes into supporting the contract.
Burton is the envy of the other City Hall influence-peddlers, if only for this reason: Other elected officials covet his politically weighty name for their endorsement list. This year, Supes Kevin Shelley, Carole Migden and Terence Hallinan all have huddled with Burton about their aspirations for higher office, and each -- according to reliable sources -- has had Gentle Giant John Burton nudge each supe toward an "aye" vote on the upcoming contract.
"He mentioned it to me when we had breakfast to talk about my plans," Hallinan confirms.
Burton lists TDI as a client of his law firm in reports required by the state, but doesn't file in San Francisco as a lobbyist for the company. Neither does TDI itself report Burton's name among those authorized to contact city officials on its behalf -- although its representative admits that Burton fits the description of those required to be reported under San Francisco law.
"Yeah, he would be one," TDI's Barbara Perzigian says of Burton, when asked if he is a lobbyist for the firm.
"We were kind of confused" about what has to be disclosed, Perzigian says, noting, "I've never filled these forms out before." Burton's role was "one of the things we were unsure about."