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."
"I thought he would report it himself," Perzigian says, in the belief that Burton would file separately as other hired lobbyists (as opposed to in-house) do. She adds that she intends to amend TDI's report and might now include Burton. "It certainly seems like it to me now."
"We 100 percent agree with the spirit and intent and we want to adhere to the law," she adds.
"The thing doesn't seem to be clear," Burton says of the registration requirement. "We're asking for the opinion on that, and when I get the opinion I'll share it with you. If they tell me in effect that I am [a lobbyist], then I will."
Burton says it's "no big deal" to him about whether he registers or not. It's apparently no big deal to the city, either. Although noncompliance carries a potential $1,000 fine and a year's suspension from the right to lobby city officials on behalf of others, the law has never been enforced since it was first enacted in 1988.
They Have Answers -- We Have Questions
The Housing Authority would be better run if Commissioners Jan Allen and Karen Huggins were bounced from their seats, or so says Mayor Jordan. But Housing and Urban Development (HUD) leaders in Washington go him one better: They say all seven Jordan commissioners should be fired -- and they're trying to make it a condition before agreeing to Jordan's likely request to send a "recovery team" to help his badly managed administration get back on track. Jordan told one commissioner that he hasn't yet ruled out HUD's request, but that "it isn't likely" that all seven will have to go .... The city's lead attorney on ethics, Randy Riddle of the city attorney's office, will quietly slip from his seat and breathe air free of City Hall concerns. He leaves his job on an up-note, having repelled Jordan's court attack on the new campaign spending limit law. With the legal challenge blocked, Jordan's only remaining hope to keep the money (over)flowing is the signature drive that lied to voters about what it would do. It's either the first or the latest of Jordan's campaign lies, depending on how you're counting (and we're counting -- on all the candidates) .... Last year Mayor Jordan dumped pollster David Binder from the Citizens Election Committee, and named pollster Ed Canapary to the post. Jordan's office, noting that Binder had done Examiner and other polls showing Jordan with low marks, said Hizzoner wanted his own pollster on the advisory group. Fair enough. But now Canapary has jumped ship to become Willie Brown's pollster in the upcoming contest against Jordan. As Shakespeare tells us, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful child." ... Yet another slush fund? Jordan operative Jack Immendorf finally dropped a note to City Attorney Louise Renne revealing that the Fleet Week Committee takes in $200,000 to $300,000 a year from the city's major corporations. Renne, under orders from the supes to subpoena the records if necessary, is writing back to demand specific contributions and sources -- and how the money has been spent (and by whom).
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