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Lythcott-Haims finds allies in her challenge over speaking fees

Original post made on May 19, 2023

As Palo Alto City Council member Julie Lythcott-Haims prepares to challenge a Fair Political Practice Commission determination that would limit her speaking engagements, she is finding key allies, including the FPPC's former chair.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 19, 2023, 9:20 AM

Comments (19)

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 19, 2023 at 10:13 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Not surprisingly for PAO. you didn't interview anyone opposing her move to turn this to an issue AFTER so much time and money was spent on the election or even mention why the opponents oppose this move.

Again, anyone who paid attention during the campaign heard her say that she was more interested in addressing the big issues NATIONALLY than in focusing on the CITY issues that City Council deals with, including staff oversight which she said she considered "nitpicking" -- this in a city where it takes a DECADE to fix a major problem with traffic lights on one of the 3 access roads to 101.

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on May 19, 2023 at 11:14 am

ALB is a registered user.

I ask if these letter-writing supporters of JLH affiliated with the FPPC found the law to be so unfair why now are they seeking to change it? Were the letter writers moved to opine by the attorney for council member? He too was associated with the FPPC.

Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Community Center
on May 19, 2023 at 11:26 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

Given that many of JLH's campaign contributors were outside the jurisdiction of Pao Alto but seeked to influence policy within Palo Alto (e.g. developers), activists and others to curry favor for her national ambitions, it seems naive to think that only limiting payers of her speaking engagements in Palo Alto is sufficient to prevent possible corruption.

Posted by cmarg
a resident of Professorville
on May 19, 2023 at 11:45 am

cmarg is a registered user.

Perhaps there can be Palo Alto residents providing their opinion on this issue. It seems prudent to ask for the opinions of both sides -- do due diligence in my opinion.

Posted by anon
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 19, 2023 at 11:53 am

anon is a registered user.

Speeches and public appearances enhance a candidates electoral prospects. When they also are a principle portion of the elected’s family income, how could we NOT perceive the candidate to be beholden to and open to influence, on ANY topic, from those who fund them.

Of course paying for speeches on those subjects could be influence seeking. If an elected shows proclivity or potential to vote my way on ANY issue (e.g., land use, police reform, spending, etc), I benefit from raising that elected’s profile. I also might get special access to that elected (they’ll be more likely to take my call). And bonus, I get to do it without anybody ever knowing I’d helped buy that seat and associated access.

At the very least, if they weaken the rules to allow this exception, they should also strengthen transparency (require specific public reporting of all orgs and individuals paying including precise amounts).

Posted by CCB
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 19, 2023 at 12:13 pm

CCB is a registered user.

Here's what opponents have been saying: the law is the law and, as a Harvard-educated lawyer, she knew about it when she ran and therefore shouldn't have run. This is a funny way of looking at things. The law evolves constantly in response to cultural changes and unforeseen circumstances. Here, an insightful, nationally acclaimed writer and educator has, through her success as a paid lecturer, carved out enough flexibility to serve her city as a council member. She is not speaking about municipal governance, nor is she hired by/speaking to people who have financial or other interest in the decisions she makes in Palo Alto. Her speaking does not violate the spirit of the law, so it is reasonable to ask the state revisit and update it. In fact, I'd say she is doing our state a service by allowing herself to be a test case.

Ironically, had she remained at Stanford, she'd have had less time to serve/more conflicts of interest–and yet she could have run for office and simply recused herself on a case-by-case basis (as Menlo Park council member Drew Combs, who works for Meta, does.) Why should that same rule not apply here? As long as she recuses herself appropriately in the unlikely event of an actual conflict of interest (e.g. if the Blake School in Minnesota, where she's speaking about how to raise an adult, were applying to open a campus in Palo Alto), I don't see the issue.

I've also seen opponents complaining that she is famous and has a national lens on things, as if that should be disqualifying. Again, I ask: is this affecting her ability to do her job? Is she skipping council meetings for speaking engagements? Is she showing up demonstrably less prepared for meetings than her colleagues? Is she engaging less with constituents? If not – who cares? (Answer: the same people who fought to keep her from being elected in the first place–Hi Dave Price!–are now deeply, loudly concerned. Let's hope that most constituents have enough common sense to tune them out.)

Posted by anon1234
a resident of College Terrace
on May 19, 2023 at 12:27 pm

anon1234 is a registered user.

“anon from Palo verde” has a truly reasoned and principled response to the situation which is after all not about an individual but fairness and transparency in government as a principle in democracy.

Posted by Leadership appreciated
a resident of Downtown North
on May 19, 2023 at 12:37 pm

Leadership appreciated is a registered user.

The purpose of the Political Reform Act of 1974 is to prevent conflicts of interest for elected officials and staff of public agencies. Councilmember Lythcott-Haims’ attorney makes solid arguments backed by a history of advice letters that have allowed exceptions to the speech definition. He also cites the 1995 Legislative Counsel’s Digest (LCD) for SB 701, an amendment to the Political Reform Act, which provides a narrative of the intention of the bill. I think this is the most compelling argument in favor of Ms. Lythcott-Haims’ continuing to generate income from public speaking. The LCD explains that state officials are only restricted on gifts and honoraria if it is income that is required to be reported on FPPC Form 700. It then states: “This bill would reorganize the gift limitation and honoraria prohibition provisions of the act so that the rules currently applicable to state officials and candidates are made equally applicable to local officials and candidates, meaning that these provisions will only apply to local officials and candidates if a gift or honorarium received by the official or candidate is required to be reported on his or her statement of economic interests.” See Web Link

Ms. Lythcott-Haims’ public speaking engagements are not reportable on her Form 700 and therefore under the original intent of the law would be exempt.

Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 19, 2023 at 1:28 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Such desperate thrashing around for arguments to legitimize expunging from city leadership an exquisitely qualified member of PACC who prevailed in a very competitive election on a platform of moving the city to provide more housing. Sore losers demand that the FPPC rule that she either sacrifice much of her livelihood or abandon the position Palo Alto voters chose her to fill last November. This despite the fact that there is a procedure available and often used, as in this case, to challenge whether the overall intent of the law is properly addressed by a particular ruling.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2023 at 8:07 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

As of Wednesday (after the May meeting was cancelled), the FPPC updated their schedule of upcoming potential changes to the regulations.

She ain't on it.

You can look at it yourself. Maybe I missed it? Web Link That's the 2023 Proposed Regulatory Calendar.

Posted by Silver Linings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2023 at 8:15 pm

Silver Linings is a registered user.

The critics who keep hammering at this say they are just concerned about potential for corruption. But as a nearly volunteer Council, any member in any profession could be hired by someone hoping to influence that member of the Council. Heck, they could get donations from developers to campaign and fail to tell voters til it’s too late.

The rule on speaking has to do with the kind of speaking arrangements that become available from being on the Council, not for speaking relating to a nonpolitical book the Councilmember was already earning a living from before serving. And was already a national figure for before being elected.

This is like making a rule that public officials can’t take money from constituents then saying that means bank tellers can’t serve unless half of what they earn doesn’t involve taking money from constituents. It’s using the letter of the law to thwart the spirit of the law.

I’m pretty sure JLH would not stick up for me if the places were reversed, and she wasn’t my first choice for Council. I have no interest in this at all except that it’s wrong to use the rules to keep someone on the Council from making an honest living that they were earning before in order to serve.

People are just being mean spirited, and we have quite enough of that in our world. If you don’t like it, get an initiative going to pay for Councilmembers as full time employees. At least you will see what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such rancor. Until then, an author who makes a living by speaking should be allowed to continue.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 19, 2023 at 8:32 pm

Annette is a registered user.

This support is hardly a surprise. Ms. Lythcott-Haims hired a good firm to represent her. Said firm is expert in political and FPPC matters and well connected in that world. So, in representing their client, they tap their network to write in support of their client and the outcome she desires.

I am surprised this article wasn't written sooner; all the clues were in Winuk's letter. Stay tuned.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2023 at 8:33 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

@SilverLinings, this is not about any spirit, unless we are talking about the spirit of the law. In that case, the spirit of the law currently forbids what JLH knew she was doing before she ran. We can all express our opinions here, but that and $5 will merely buy half a cup of joe (used to say, "that and a nickel will buy you a cup of coffee, but inflation, lala). It won't change the law. What needs to happen to change the law is to engage many more gears in the millhouse. Not just a one time meeting. There are people who could have run, decades ago, but for that law. What about them? Will they sue the state for not changing the rules for them?

And yeah I understand antiquated laws. Women can now own property, so that's one law that definitely needed to change. All of the civil rights laws needed to change (and not reversed, though the pathetic SCOTUS did it anyway). Society has evolved. However, there is a process for all of these laws changing. None of them happened overnight.

If suddenly, you were no longer allowed to give your opinion here because someone arbitrarily changed the rules, you might get mad. Because the definition of arbitrary is "based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system". And that, more than anything, is what is unfair to all Californians if JLH gets her way. Because she wants to avert the system. To sidestep it entirely, to have her way. Nearly 40 million people will be affected by it, either directly or indirectly. Should she really be granted such a pass?

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2023 at 1:46 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

Ahh @MyFeelz my heart aches to understand the law v. times. My heart aches because I so badly or goodly appreciate your voice and word here. And yet. The YET. Where are the checks and balances. If let’s say a CC member is a local realtor and makes her income off of selling property in her jurisdiction and also votes on real estate matters like Creek Side or Fry’s why is there not a conflict of interest? I am not being didactic. Or let’s say a CC member has stock in a local start-up or other company like Tesla and a vote arises on an agenda item that has to do with one of the companies the CC member is making money from, does this not exclude them from the vote or larger. I am trying to figure it out without much guidance ... or how about a CC member who gets income from a local rental property yet is voting on rent ordinances. Or a CC member who is a teacher and voting on Cubberely lease agreement. It appears to me and I of course am no expert that every CC member has any one or many conflicts of interest. I guess the problem here is the term “honorarium”. If a realtor get a 2% selling fee for a SFH home sale in a neighborhood she/he resides in and then opposes multi family home rental builds in that same neighborhood because it impacts selling prices of a SFH, is that not also a conflict?? Seriously clue me in. So I was distracted walking my tiny pooch. He pooped on Cal Ave sidewalk w/out my knowledge. A bystander loitering w two friends, called out “hey clean up after your dog!” “Why?”. I replied. He said, “Because it’s the law.” He did not say because it’s public decorum or it’s polite. Should I have bowed to his demand? Is he the sidewalk dog poop Gostapo ? If I had not been hurrying home to pay my rent before a three day notice arrived on my door or stressed because of the fear & oppressive tactics used by Related Mayfield Place or he’d been just a tad more friendly about the doggie potty accident it all may have turned out differently.

Posted by PaloAltoVoter
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2023 at 8:30 am

PaloAltoVoter is a registered user.

The rules on conflicts of interest are extensive and answer many of the questions asked here. Just because people don’t know them or understand them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They are complex but to simplify at a high level, if a decision directly impacts your income (good or bad it doesn’t matter) then you have a conflict. So if you work at a startup and a decision has a direct material impact you must recuse. It can’t be a general decision that impacts the whole city (for example something that possibly impacts all real estate in the future is not a conflict - like upzoning family neighborhoods which generally increases property values). Palo Alto also wants to avoid decisions that have the appearance of conflicts - this is an ethical decision not purely legal.
However this issue if different - how to prevent money laundering and corruption - if all of my income comes from speaking about the weather, paid for by say a national organization, it is impossible to separate good intentions from bad ones. Why risk it and allow politicians to make a living from public speaking? The power of the bully pulpit is part of their office and should be free of paid influence addressed to all voters, not paid for.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2023 at 9:12 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

@NativeToTheBAY, there seem to be a few different schools of thought swimming through this fish tank. Some people posit hypotheticals that they wish would come to fruition. Others feel they have a solution and could fix all the bad legislation if only given the chance. I'm more of a "write down the facts and stare at 'em and see if I'm misinterpreting."

We have the proposed legislative anticipated at the FPPC through the end of the year. All we're looking at it is the cancellation notice of the May meeting, assuming it will be put on the agenda for june. But the FPPC has not notified the public of any proposed change of legislation (that is years down the road anyway) pertaining to JLH. If the June meeting is called and the subject miraculously makes the issue suddenly worthy of the higher-ups to advance it to a change in the law I guess 40 million Californians will wake up asking, "Why wasn't I notified?" A watchdog agency such as FPPC only exists as long as it treats everyone the same under the law.

It's not about the fact that anyone thinks THIS issue could change 5 peoples' minds and become legislation. It's not even about the fact that the law exists at all. It's about how our laws are made and upheld. If they are meaningless, we might as well turn the legislature building into low-income apartments.

Sorry you got harped on about your dog. I have a great idea, though. Why not to take all of the campaign literature, and create diapers with it. Think of it as CouncilGami. Repurposed.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 21, 2023 at 6:13 am

Annette is a registered user.

I'm not following why this story continues to present as the top news item when PAO is opened; it is not a lead news item in the other paper. Nothing's new. A question has been asked and answered, the answer is being appealed. A lawyer is representing JLH and some letters supporting her position have been written. Next case - until the hearing. I also don't understand why the possibly questionable speaking engagements aren't simply reclassified as workshops so that her participation is as a teacher, which she is allowed to do. Thanks to all the fuss about this, enough people are watching her that if she breaks the rules, that will be noticed.

Anything newsworthy happening in Ukraine? China? Washington, D.C.?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2023 at 9:44 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

@Annette I hate to say it but everybody can't help but watch a train wreck. I'm not sure that's the kind of notoriety JLH wants, but that's what's happening. As for the conversion from speaker to workshop maven, speaker has more cachet and it also generates higher fees.

ps she is not a teacher. unless there's something i don't know. which school district is paying her to teach?

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2023 at 1:59 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

@MyFeelz and for the record I cleaned up after my pooch without a electoral paper diaper. Even after after being verbally “classified”as being a “Karen” by said bleached blond Brit. Yet, I am still not sure about JLH and her out of Zip honorariums. Our elected & appointed governances are rife w corruptions from Supreme Judicial 2 CC’s. Is this JLH’s a singular check on the entire balance of democracy?

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