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Philadelphia has a lobbying law but needs money to enforce it

With Mayor Nutter's blessing, the city's first lobbying law is in force, but lobbyists will still be able to roam City Hall as they please unless the cash-strapped administration finds extra dollars to give the law teeth.

With Mayor Nutter's blessing, the city's first lobbying law is in force, but lobbyists will still be able to roam City Hall as they please unless the cash-strapped administration finds extra dollars to give the law teeth.

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics, charged with administering the new law, "is enthusiastic about this expansion of its mission," board chairman Richard Glazer wrote the mayor June 22. "But it would be irresponsible not to alert you to the fact that it is impossible to implement the new law without your intervention."

The board is asking for its $810,000 budget to expand to as much as $1.4 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, a request that the Nutter administration met last week with great uncertainty.

Glazer cited $500,000 in costs associated with acquiring electronic-filing software and also building a database.

That figure is based on the $500,000 it took in 2007 to design and implement the city's electronic-filing software for campaign-finance reports. Glazer's letter also cited the $1 million it took the state to build its lobbying-disclosure system.

But costs may be minimized if the city can perform some of the work in-house. The board hopes to talk soon with the city Division of Technology to discuss that possibility.

The board also said it needed an extra $130,000 to add three workers to the seven already employed. According to the letter, the extra workers would provide advice and training for lobbyists who file, help people with electronic-filing issues, investigate possible violations of the law, and keep the lobbying website updated.

"This is a completely new category of work for the Ethics Board," said its executive director, Shane Creamer. "If they [the Division of Technology] are able to absorb the costs associated with creating the database, then that would lower the costs, but we still need the personnel."

Without funding, it will be "impossible" to implement the new law, Creamer said. Like other city agencies and departments, the board's spending has already been cut, from $1 million two years ago.

"We have accepted reductions to our budget in the past because we wanted to do our part," Glazer wrote the mayor. "But when the board is required to expand its operations to both implement and administer a new electronic-disclosure law, the city needs to do its part by providing the board with adequate funding."

Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver said the administration, through Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman, was working with the board to make its own cost assessment. He said that although the Mayor's Office acknowledged some money would have to be spent up front, "not everything needs to be paid for immediately."

Oliver also noted the city's financial challenges - departments have been asked yet again to reduce spending, some by about 2 percent, some by more - and said: "A more than 50 percent increase in one particular department appears to be a heavy and unlikely lift."

Laws regulating lobbyists have been in effect for years in most other major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Baltimore.

As of July 1, 2011, the Philadelphia law requires lobbyists to register each year, disclose the nature of their business and any affiliated political action committees, and provide a recent photograph.

Lobbyists who spend more than $2,500 must also file expense reports detailing what they spent for the issue they lobbied on, such as the cost of transportation and lodging for city officials or employees and their immediate families, as well as any money spent on direct or indirect communication efforts.

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