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‘Ride-Along’ Lobbyists Limited in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - California's political watchdog tightened state lobbying laws Thursday, voting to limit a "ride-along" loophole that allowed unregistered lobbyists to petition lawmakers during private meetings.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission voted 3-1 to amend the state's lobbying definition in an effort to stem the practice of lobbyists bringing along others to meetings with legislators. For decades California lobbyists have taken advantage of loose lobbying laws by bringing "ride-alongs" or subject-matter experts with them to help pitch lawmakers on specific issues.

The approved changes only allow lobbyists to bring ride-alongs if they are employed by the same lobbying company and add "substantive information" to the issue at hand. The commission used teachers, engineers and human resources employees as examples of acceptable ride-alongs.

"The proposed regulatory amendments will clarify that the ride-along exception is limited in application and will prevent abuses that result in a lack of disclosure of lobbying activity," Hyla P. Wagner, commission general counsel, said in a letter to the commission.

Currently, anyone making more than $2,000 per month to communicate with and attempt to influence California public officials must register as a lobbyist.

The changes are also meant to curb former elected officials from lobbying their former colleagues without registering as a lobbyist or reporting their communication.

The commission investigated former Lt. Gov Cruz Bustamante in 2015 for his role in stifling a 2008 bill proposal by attempting to influence the Legislative Latino Caucus. Investigators said that while Bustamante lobbied state officials on behalf of his clients, they couldn't decipher whether the payments he received were for the lobbying or other actions and gave him a warning letter .

Additionally, the commission approved several enforcement penalties Thursday, including a $35,000 fine against Torrance Mayor Pat Furey. Furey's 2014 campaign funneled illegal campaign contributions through a political action committee and failed to report payments to vendors, according to the commission.

Following the vote, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Public Integrity Division said it would review Furey's case and the commission's allegations.

The Stanislaus Republican Central Committee was fined $10,000 for "laundered campaign contributions" regarding a contribution made to Anthony Strickland's unsuccessful 2010 campaign for California State Controller. The commission found the Modesto-based committee donated $20,000 to Strickland's campaign but wasn't the actual source of the donation.

Oil industry-giant Phillips 66 was slapped with a $16,000 penalty for funding a 2012 mass-mailing effort against Measure V, a proposed tax increase on oil companies operating in the Southern California city of Rialto. The mailings failed to display sender identification and purported to be from the "Californians for Good Schools and Good Jobs" committee, according to the commission.

The regulator handed out 26 fines totaling more than $104,000 during its March meeting.

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