Dear Boston City Hall: lobbying reform is not that hard to do

Boston, MA - 03/03/2016 - Passersby walk through Boston City Hall Plaza in Boston MA, March 03, 2016. (Keith Bedford/Globe Staff)
Boston City Hall Plaza

Mayor Walsh proclaimed that lobbying transparency would be a priority a year ago, but a year later not enough has been done to regulate the work of influence peddlers at City Hall.What’s worse: The reasons why lobbying reform hasn’t happened are embarrassingly trivial at best. A sensible conclusion is that Walsh, his stated good intentions aside, lacks enthusiasm for tackling reform. But the inertia can’t be blamed on Walsh alone. The City Council needs to be part of the push for lobbying reform as well .

A Globe story on Monday revealed that Walsh’s proposed regulations for municipal lobbyists have been stalled in a City Council committee since February. The initiative came after an earlier Globe report detailed how a longtime friend and former law partner of the city’s top lawyer used his personal relationships to get access to city officials to pitch products sold by companies he represented.

The reform proposal, which Walsh filed as a home-rule petition, called for municipal lobbyists to register with the city and file reports twice a year disclosing their campaign contributions, clients’ names, the payments they receive from clients, and the specific legislation or policies they were hired to influence, among other key information. “We’re the first administration in the last four or five mayors that has actually tackled this issue of ethics reform,” said Walsh. But the petition needed approval from the City Council and the state Legislature, and that’s when lobbying reform took a back seat. When it came time to coordinate a public hearing on the measure, Councilor Michael Flaherty — the chairman of the Government Operations Committee — said he never scheduled it because the mayor’s staff never sent him a date. “As soon as the administration gets me some dates, I will work with them on scheduling a hearing,” Flaherty said. “This is a well-intended and necessary proposal that will help bring about more transparency to the public process. But it has not been the most important issue that we have dealt with this year.”


That is among the lamer excuses ever heard from an elected official. There’s nothing that was stopping Flaherty, an at-large councilor, from taking the initiative to press the issue. “There’s plenty of things the city council never checks in with us on,” said Walsh in an interview.

After Monday’s Globe report, the mayor refiled the initiative and the city council promptly scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday. In the meantime, the delay has meant another 12 months of lobbyists advocating, practically in secret, on behalf of interest groups and companies, to influence city policies. On lobbying transparency, Boston is an outlier among top US cities. A year has been wasted, but it’s not too late for Walsh, along with the City Council, to change that dubious distinction.