REDWOOD CITY — Lobbyists who aim to sway the votes of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors could soon have a harder time shielding their efforts from the public eye.

At their meeting Tuesday, the supervisors are to vote on a new ordinance that would require lobbyists to pay a $100 annual registration fee and file semiannual public reports of their activity, putting the county on par with other Bay Area jurisdictions.

"It is important for the public to know who is attempting to influence their elected officials," said Supervisor Rich Gordon, who authored the ordinance. "As elected officials, we have a duty to the community to ensure the process is open and public."

The ordinance is the result of a comparative review undertaken by the County Counsel of ethics-related laws and ordinances in San Francisco and San Jose, and Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties.

The comparison found that these entities have some sort of lobbyist registration and reporting requirement, while San Mateo County has nothing. There is no state law regulating lobbying activities that is applicable to the county.

"When we finally got the report from the County Counsel's office, we were in pretty good shape," Gordon said, with the exception of regulating lobbyists. "It became something that I wanted to promote and push forward."

Gordon emphasized that the ordinance is the result of careful study and not a knee-jerk reaction to malfeasance.

"It's not like there's some problem that we had or there's some huge glaring issue," he said.

The review found that San Francisco requires lobbyists to register annually for a $500 fee and file quarterly re-ports. San Jose charges $350 and also requires quarterly reporting. Santa Clara County mandates that anyone who has a matter for consideration before the Board of Supervisors for a contract, permit, license or franchise, has to declare the name of anyone paid more than $100 to represent them before supervisors or other county officials.

In San Mateo County, a "lobbyist" will mean a person or entity paid by "clients" for lobbying services. It will also include an employee or member of a business or organization "who, as a part of his or her employment, lobbies on behalf of that business or organization."

The latter does not mean that a small-business owner, resident or school principal who meets with a supervisor to express a concern suddenly becomes a lobbyist, Gordon said.

It is intended, he said, for people who generally have the name "government relations" in their title and talk to elected officials in all sorts of jurisdictions regularly on behalf of entities such as public utilities or universities.

"The key piece, I believe, is 'a regular part of their employment,'" Gordon said. "A school principal doesn't regularly come and talk to the Board of Supervisors about an issue at their school."

Gordon added, "I think the folks who need to register are going to know that they need to register."

"Lobbying," according to the ordinance, will include direct oral and written communication with supervisors or their aides, as well as writing potential ordinances, resolutions, requests for proposals, contracts or memoranda for the purpose of influencing government policy.

It will not include merely speaking or presenting at a public meeting through public testimony, if the speaker has identified him or herself and the client.

The ordinance will require lobbyists to report their clients' names, what items or issues they were hired to influence, a summary of lobbying activities, the amount of compensation received from each client, and any gifts offered to a supervisor or aide.

The foundations of the ordinance date back three years, after a panel discussion on ethics for government leaders at the 2004 Progress Seminar, Gordon said. The seminar is an annual weekend gathering in Monterey of local and state government officials and business leaders.

Some weeks after the panel discussion, Gordon said he raised the issue of reviewing San Mateo County's ethics policies to the rest of the board. 

County Counsel was charged with conducting a review, which Gordon admits "took a while," partly because ethics law changes — including state-mandated ethics training for government officials — went into effect in October 2005.

The ordinance would not go into effect until Jan 1.

Staff writer Rebekah Gordon can be reached at (650) 306-2428 or rgordon@sanmateocountytimes.com.