Monday, January 12, 2015

          Translating San Francisco’s Lobbying Rules Into Plain English

          2L Lena Germinario and 3L Sally Hong created fact sheets summarizing the city’s complex lobbying ordinance.

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          Sally Hong presents the guide for lobbying rules to the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

          When 2L Lena Germinario and 3L Sally Hong embarked on a semester-long project for UC Hastings’ Public Law and Policy Work Group, little did they know that they’d become members of an exclusive club of experts in the city’s arcane lobbying rules.

          The Public Law and Policy Work Group falls under the umbrella of UC Hastings’ Center for State and Local Government Law and has been led by Professor David Jung since 1995. “UC Hastings is a leader in recognizing that modern law is dominated by statutes and regulations, not the common law. We offer many opportunities - our Legislation Clinic and externship programs, for example - for students to focus their studies on local government and administrative agencies,” said Jung. “The Work Group allows students to help solve real-world problems by learning how lawyers engage with the policy process, how to write policy for a lay audience and how the problem-solving skills of policy analysts differ from and mesh with those of lawyers.”

          Germinario’s and Hong’s challenge: to translate San Francisco’s recently amended lobbying ordinance into easily understood fact sheets that would educate the public and potential lobbyists about the ordinance’s requirements. This project was the perfect opportunity for Hong, who hopes to work in the government sector and focus on political ethics. “After all, a government that people can trust must have ethical regulations to ensure that corruption does not undermine the purpose of government, which I believe is to serve the people,” remarked Hong.

          Working closely with Hastings’ alumnus Jesse Mainardi ’01, Deputy Director of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, Germinario and Hong dove into their assignment and quickly discovered that they would need to do more than simply read the ordinance and create a couple of fact sheets to summarize it.

          To succeed, Germinario and Hong first needed to gain a thorough understanding of the lobbying rules. They read the ordinance several times and analyzed it thoroughly. “The most challenging aspect of this project was really understanding the language of the ordinance,” said Hong. To ensure their comprehension of the rules, they prepared a memorandum addressed to a fictional lobbyist, an exercise that allowed the students to explain the law’s basic requirements in their own words and receive feedback from Mainardi and others at the Commission. After interviewing several registered lobbyists, who already possessed a clear understanding of the ordinance’s requirements, Germinario and Hong realized they needed to tailor their work to people who have little familiarity with the rules.

          Germinario and Hong recently presented the fruit of their labors – six detailed, yet accessible fact sheets - to the Ethics Commission, which enthusiastically endorsed their work. “The fact sheets have already begun to help the Ethics Commission educate the public about what is required for lobbyist activity in San Francisco,” said Mainardi. The fact sheets will soon be made available on the Commission’s Web site; in the meantime, links to them can be found here.

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