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SAN JOSE — Ashurbel Pirayou generates about half his business from practicing law. But the campaign finance expert puts his knowledge to use in other ways — lobbying on behalf of a wide range of clients. So it might come as a surprise that he’s a supporter of a new proposal to toughen lobbying rules in Santa Clara County, an idea that is generating debate in Silicon Valley’s legal community. “Any time there is transparency, it’s a good thing. It’s important for everyone to know the rules,” said Pirayou, who once worked as a campaign treasurer and aide to San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales. But support for the proposal is not universal. Lawyers who have frequent contacts with all levels of the county government — in particular, land use specialists and municipal attorneys — are concerned about the disclosure of what they consider to be attorney-client information. They also worry that what is now considered a friendly business conversation may soon subject them to strict new regulations. Attorneys say the answer is to fine-tune the lobbying law — spell out the difference between a lawyer and a lobbyist, and precisely define what is considered lobbying — before it goes to the Board of Supervisors. “This is a work in progress because the regulations here are catching up to what other cities and counties are doing,” said Sean Morley, a San Jose land use attorney and occasional lobbyist. The changes were proposed earlier this month after Santa Clara County was criticized for hiring a lobbyist to work on a stalled county concert hall project. The lobbyist also represented the company that won the lucrative construction account. After the story broke in the San Jose Mercury News, the county counsel’s office quickly put together a prototype ordinance using provisions of lobbying laws from other municipalities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. Lobbyists who work with the county say stricter regulations are a good idea. “We think it’s important that the public understands what issues are being worked on and who is trying to influence them,” said Thomas Saggau, a lobbyist with San Jose’s Saggau & DeRollo, which represents the Santa Clara County Government Attorneys Association — the county’s largest union of prosecutors and public defenders. “The way the law is has allowed people to run lucrative lobbying practices without worrying about registering,” Saggau added. County Counsel Ann Ravel said the proposal, still in its early stages, is intended to generate discussion between the county’s Finance and Government Operations Committee, which is drafting the ordinance, and the board, which will have to approve it. In the past, Santa Clara required anyone paid more than $100 to represent a client with county business to file a declaration with a clerk before appearing before the board. But in the new proposal, anyone who earns more than $3,200 or who spends 100 hours lobbying over the course of three months must disclose the client, fees and the purpose of lobbying. Anyone earning $5,000 or more within a year would face similar requirements. The county is also considering annual registration fees, as well as penalties up to $2,500 for violations. Santa Clara hopes to have a new law on the books by the end of the year. Though tougher than previous restrictions, the law would not be as tough as is the case in San Francisco, where lobbyists must disclose the total number of contacts made with public officials during the previous two months. Contract lobbyists must also pay a $500 fee and $75 for each additional client. But Santa Clara is borrowing one piece of San Francisco’s law — lobbyists could be required to submit quarterly reports detailing their activities. LAWYER OR LOBBYIST? Under the proposal, lawyers working with the county for clients on matters that can be done only by licensed attorneys are not deemed lobbyists. But that definition does not go far enough for some. It doesn’t include a rather large and nebulous collection of lawyers who also work as lobbyists, and who might take on additional responsibilities for businesses or companies outside of traditional legal duties. Proponents say it’s simple: If you represent a client at public meetings or speak on behalf of a company — then you are probably lobbying for them. “I understand where the concern comes from. But if an attorney is being paid to influence the government and that attorney appears at public hearings or in meetings with a decision maker, then the public has the right to know,” Ravel said. Morley said the key to drafting good legislation is finding acceptable language through dialogue. He added that the state and federal governments have managed to make lobbying laws viable without interfering with legal work. “At the federal level and the state level, they’ve successfully threaded the needle by using needed exceptions for lawyers,” Morley said. Andrew Faber, a land use and municipal attorney and partner with San Jose’s Berliner Cohen, said any lobbying law needs to consider “to what extent just practicing law is deemed lobbying.” Faber said land use attorneys sometimes meet with a supervisor or a council member — usually regarding a publicized land use project well within the public eye. “Lobbyists should register when their agendas are unknown,” he said. CLOSING LOOPHOLES To avoid the problem of forcing attorneys to comply with lobbying rules when doing routine work, the city of San Jose concedes that a conversation could only be considered lobbying when it involves high-ranking officials, including city council members, commissioners or department heads. “There’s always the issue of how wide a net to cast,” Faber said. “People are going in and out of City Hall constantly. If you are in a project, you have to meet with planners and public works employees.” Dustin DeRollo, who works with Saggau at their San Jose lobbying firm, argued that a new law would close several existing loopholes. In too many instances, DeRollo said, attorneys hired for legal and technical advice on land use projects end up influencing government officials. For example, an attorney working for a construction company might ask for less stringent environmental testing on a development to save costs. “Sometimes you have lawyers, architects and engineers trying to influence the decision with the city attorney’s office and the planning department,” DeRollo said. “People need to ask � are you stepping away from giving technical legal advice and moving into a role of being an advocate? We found that nine times out of 10, they [lawyers] are advocates and sometimes even spokesmen. They are working as advocates — not as technical experts.”

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