Five Dallas City Council members want the city to think about requiring people to register as lobbyists if they get paid to influence the council. The ongoing Dallas City Hall federal corruption trial has brought a series of revelations about so-called consultants -- a broad term apparently meaning anybody who can get you the votes you need for your deal with the city, for a price.
Five council members this morning signed a letter to City Attorney Tom Perkins asking him to research requirements for lobbyists at the state capitol and also in other cities. Angela Hunt, Jerry Allen, Pauline Medrano, Ann Margolin and Linda Koop write in the letter, which you'll find in full after the jump, "In order to ensure transparent, open government, and discourage even the appearance of impropriety, we request that the City Council consider adopting a registration process for paid lobbyists similar to that employed by the State of Texas."
I'm writing about this issue in my column for this week's Dallas Observer. I spoke with Hunt about the letter this morning and told her I was hearing some resistance from people who think asking lobbyists to identify themselves might impinge on First Amendment rights (speech, assembly, petition, payola).
Hunt pointed out that ordinary citizens, before they are allowed even to speak to the council during its sessions, must provide their names and home addresses: "I don't buy the argument about the First Amendment," she said. "Here's an example. You know when folks come up to City Hall, an average everyday citizen neighborhood activist, they come up and they stand at that microphone. What's the first thing they have to do? They have to give their name and address.
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"It's a matter of public record if you appear before the city council. Well, why wouldn't we help ensure transparency in other ways when people are speaking to us behind closed doors, especially when they are paid lobbyists?
"I don't think this will put an end to graft or corruption. I think that would be naïve and overly idealistic. But I think it can provide transparency."
My prediction? A majority of the Dallas City Council believes that the term "transparency" is code for "messin' with my money." Definitely the mayor won't go for this. Ain't gonna happen.
But the debate will be enlightening.Council Members Letter to Tom Perkins