The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission fined a former City Council district planning deputy $37,500 Tuesday for failing to properly register as a lobbyist.
Gary Benjamin, a former planning deputy for City Council District 13 and the owner of Alchemy, a consulting business specializing in “complex entitlement approvals” and advocacy, received $209,165 from clients for city lobbying activities between 2017 and 2019, according to commission documents.
Commission staff said Alchemy should have been registered as a city lobbyist during that time because it received more than $1,000 from clients for its services.
Benjamin worked for CD 13 from July 2013 to September 2015 and, after leaving the city, he worked for a registered city lobbying firm prior to forming Alchemy. But there was a period of time when his lobbying activities went unreported, according to Ethics Commission documents.
“After receiving a complaint alleging that Alchemy had engaged in undisclosed lobbying activities, enforcement staff initiated an investigation,” according to the documents.
According to Stephen Colon, Ethics Commission lead investigator, Benjamin met with city officials but not elected council members as part of his lobbying activities. He said the investigation was initiated following a whistlerblower complaint.
During Tuesday’s hearing, ethics commissioners asked whether Benjamin’s actions were deliberate, since he had worked for a registered city lobbying firm before the whistleblower complaint was filed and because of his ties to the city.
“He asked a colleague if he should have filed, and he was told `no,’ so I don’t think he went out of his way … but he didn’t do his due diligence,” Colon said.
The Municipal Lobbying Ordinance requires people who qualify as lobbyists to register with the Ethics Commission and to report their lobbying activities
Benjamin and Alchemy faced a maximum penalty of up to $75,000 for 15 violations, and the commission approved the fine of $37,500.
“It was unwise of me not to look into the laws that affected the industry,” Benjamin told the Los Angeles Times earlier, calling it “an unfortunate mistake.”
According to Ethics Commission documents, Benjamin agreed to the recommended penalty but requested an extended payment schedule. In support of his request, Benjamin has provided bank statements and tax records to Ethics Commission staff.