Lobbyists At Work: Billboard Companies Pay Big Bucks to Influence L.A. City Officials

In 2009, billboard giants Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor, Lamar Advertising and others paid a total of nearly $1 million to firms registered to lobby city officials, according to City Ethics Commission records.   This time period corresponded with the drafting of a new city-wide sign ordinance (still pending before a City Council committee), and several high-profile challenges by community and advocacy groups to permits issued for digital billboards.

Interestingly, none of the three firms that control most of the city’s billboards-Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor, and Lamar Advertising-were the heaviest spenders on lobbying.  That distinction went to Regency Outdoor, a West Hollywood company that paid its lobbying firm $286,787 in 2009.  Texas-based Clear Channel wasn’t far behind, though, with $272,886 in lobbying expenses.  Van Wagner Communications, a New York company that has been very active in putting up signage in new mixed-use developments such as the Hollywood & Vine project, spent $200,496, CBS Outdoor spent $151,094,  and Lamar Advertising brought up the rear with $65,000.

The large expenditures by Regency Outdoor and Van Wagner Communications, both among the small players on the L.A. billboard scene, may reflect the fact that Regency is challenging a Hollywood Sign district provision that has allowed Van Wagner to get credits for new supergraphic signs at a ratio of 2 to 1 in exchange for removing existing conventional billboards.  The company now holds credits for nearly 40,000 square feet of the new signage, which it can use to put up signs in future developments.

The companies and the lobbying firms registered to represent them in 2010 are as follows:

Clear Channel Outdoor:   Afriat Consulting Group; Urban Solutions, LLC

Lamar Advertising :  Ken Spiker & Assoc.

Regency Outdoor Advertising:  Ek & Ek

Van Wagner Communications: Cerrell Assoc. Inc

CBS Outdoor is not represented by a lobbying firm registered for 2010, according to the ethics commission listing.  For the last six months of 2009, it was represented by Kendall, Brill & Klieger.   A total of 25 employees of the five firms above are registered as lobbyists with the ethics commission.

The fact that 2009 appears to have been a bad year for outdoor advertisers didn’t put a crimp on expenditures for lobbying.  Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor, and Lamar Advertising had a combined loss of just over $1 billion, according to year-end financial reports.  Regency Outdoor and Van Wagner Communications are both privately-held companies, so the state of their 2009 balance sheets isn’t known.

Dennis Hathaway

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