Chula Vista has tiptoed closer to transparency. On November 3, the city council approved an ordinance that compels elected officers and candidates to electronically file economic interest statements, also known as Form 700, and campaign disclosure statements, or Form 460.
The portal for the economic interest forms is already up on the city website. Filers also must disclose gifts they receive.
The drawback to the new ordinance is that the electronic filing will not be mandated until July 1, 2017 — after the next election cycle. In 2016, two city-council seats will be open.
Economic interest forms (700), filed annually by public officials, consultants, volunteer boardmembers, and some city government employees, ensure that business, personal, or volunteer affiliations are disclosed and evaluated.
All but one councilmember, John McCann, has filed an economic interest form online with the city. However, all councilmembers’ 2014 forms are available at the state Fair Political Practices Commission site.
Although campaign disclosure statements (460) will not be mandatory until 2017, the city clerk stated in an email, “The electronic filing of Campaign Forms was just approved by Council and we are in the process of setting the site up. We expect it to be up and running by the end of the year. Old forms won't be available through the new system, but can still be requested by emailing us or coming to the office.”
But beyond these steps toward transparency, many are hoping that Chula Vista will finally compel lobbyists to register as well. There was an attempt in 2006 to require this: an ordinance was brought forward by former councilmember Patricia Chavez.
A Star News article from that time, titled, “City Council delays vote on lobbyist ordinance,” recounts how a representative from the Building Industry Association, Jerry Livingston, who is himself a lobbyist, argued against the ordinance: “Livingston took aim at the tracking of charitable donations at the behest of officials and candidates, which the ordinance requires. He threatened pulling support by his members of city and council-connected concerns.” Money is sometimes donated to a politician’s favorite charity to curry favor with that politician.
According to the article, then councilmember John McCann said: “I think there’s enough concern that we will have to take a look, but I am confident we will bring something back that does not have a potential chilling effect on charitable donations, but we really want to make sure that the ordinance we implement is understandable to the average citizen.” McCann was reelected in November 2014. The ordinance was voted down and sent back to committee, never to re-merge.
Former San Diego City Council member Donna Frye is the president of Californians Aware, a nonprofit group that helps citizens with rights and finding out “what they need to know to be truly self-governing.” When asked via email about the importance of these campaign disclosure documents and lobbyist registration, Frye wrote: “You can tell quite a bit about a candidate by who their supporters are.”
“The public has a right to know who is meeting with their elected officials and why,” continued Frye. “Lobbyists are paid to push a particular political agenda and influence the elected official’s vote. It is beneficial for the public to know how often an elected official is lobbied and the issue that was discussed, because it helps shine some light on how elected officials make decisions. It also helps the public determine if they are being given the same access as the lobbyists.
“It is especially instructive for the public to look at both campaign donor disclosures and lobbyist disclosures and see if there may be a correlation between the two as it relates to access to the elected official.”