Matt Cunningham is the editor of Red County. You can read more on Red County.

Joe Dunn is a former elected official and lobbyist who believes any contact between the two species should be reported to the proper authorities. He’s acting on that belief by demanding the Board of Supes enact his “reform” proposal for regulating and taxing interaction between them and lobbyists.

If they don’t, he says he’ll qualify it for the ballot, presumably using Orange County Employee Association money.

This is such a bad idea, and in so many ways.

  • On a philosophical level, it springs from the Progressive belief in redemptive government, guided by experts and untainted by petty politics and immune to “influencing” by “outside” interests. It presumes human nature can be redeemed by the the “right” amount of government regulation of human behavior. It’s kindred to the mystical faith these same reformers have in campaign contribution limits to magically “clean up” government.
  • On a political level, I’m coming to the conclusion this is the opening shot in a Joe Dunn campaign for 1st District Supervisor in 2012. As an aside, the growing likelihood of a run by liberal Democrat Dunn makes it critical the Board of Supervisors makes the 1st Supe as Republican as possible during the 2011 re-districting.
  • On a governance level, it would erect an obstacle to contracting out county services, as I note here.

First, let’s look at the logic of Dunn’s proposal.

Take the proposed requirement that lobbyists report all contributions to county supervisors. Maybe someone forgot to tell Joe Dunn, but they already have to do that, juts like every other citizen. It’s called TIN CUP. If Dunn’s purpose is to make it easy to see how much and to whom lobbyists donate money, creating a searchable online database of contributions to county elected officials would serve the same purpose, obviating the reason for segregating a particular class of citizens for special reporting requirements.

Now, let’s examine the logic — or illogic — of forcing supervisors and lobbyists to report contact with each other.

Suppose you are a waste hauler bidding on a county contract. Although you are trying to influence how county supervisors vote, you don’t have to register as a lobbyist, and the supervisors don’t have to report their interactions with you.

However, if you hired someone to do the same thing, that person would have to register as a lobbyist and supervisors would have to report any interactions with the person you hired.

But If someone volunteered to do exactly what the lobbyist was doing for you, that person would not have to register as a lobbyist and supervisors would not have to report any interactions with the volunteer advocate.

All three individuals are engaged in the same activity for the same reason, but only the paid lobbyist is officially tagged as a leper who has to register with the government and contact with whom just be reported by supervisors to the political public health authorities.

Trying To Influence Your Government Is Bad…If You’re Good At It

Suffusing Dunn’s proposal is the notion that trying to influence elected officials is a morally suspect activity…at least, if you’re good enough at it that someone will hire you. Self-advocacy is deemed unworthy of policing, as is unpaid advocacy. However, the moment a civil engineering firm vendor hires you to set up a meeting with a Supervisor, you become a leper with whom contact must be reported too the political health authorities for possible quarantining.

Where is the logic in that?

And as with campaign finance reform, the big players will find a way around it, and the smaller fish will be disadvantaged. Bigger firms that regularly do business with the county and use advocacy services can simply hire a lobbyist as a part-time employee rather than as an independent contractor. After all, Dunn’s registration registration and contact reporting requirements don’t apply to the companies lobbying county government on their own behalf.

Smaller outfits competing with the big fish in the county contracting pond will thus be further handicapped, as the big guys give them a PR black eye by pointing to official reports of all the “lobbying” their smaller competitors are engaged in.

Not that practical consequences — intended or unintended — matter to these “reform” proponents — as with all liberal do-goodism, it’s intentions that matter, not results.

You Want Reform? We’ll Give You Reform!

The sad reality is voters will tend to support any initiative purporting to reform or clean-up government — regardless of whether the initiative really does any such thing. Dunn knows that, the Supes know that, and Dunn knows the Supes know that. He’s counting on them convincing themselves that it will pass anyway if Dunn qualifies it, and therefore deciding to enact something they think they can live with.

My suggestion: if Dunn wants reform, the Supes should consider giving him reform — lots of it. 

How about a “Comprehensive Clean and Transparent Government Act of 2010,” or less originally, “Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics 3” aka TIN CUP 3? Start with a mild form of lobbyist registration, add in the abolition of contribution limits, and implement paycheck protection for all county employees — if county unions want member contributions for political purposes, they can obtain it on an individual, voluntary basis.

If Dunn insists on putting his lobbying registration initiative on the ballot, the Supes can respond with their more comprehensive proposal. After all, if some government reform is good, then more must be better, isn’t it?

Matt Cunningham is the editor of Red County. You can read more on Red County.