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Mar 29 / Jonathan

Lobbyists rarely lose in California Legislature

This is the first in a new series of articles in the Sacramento Bee. This is, of course, nothing new, but it can’t hurt to keep pointing it out.

Lobbyists spend millions — and rarely lose in Legislature

… The oil industry spent more than $10.5 million to influence the Legislature and state agencies. A 2007 industry association report touted that even in a Democratic-controlled Legislature, “of the 52 bills identified as priorities (in 2007), only three that we opposed were approved by the Legislature.”

Of those three, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two.

A Bee analysis of this past two-year session found the 10 highest-spending employers of private lobbyists shelled out a total of more than $70 million working the halls of state government. They rarely lost. …

… The corps of lobbyists truly is California’s third house – and a bigger one at that. Registered lobbyists outnumber lawmakers in Sacramento 8-to-1.

That ratio allows the richest interests the luxury of swarming the Legislature for key policy battles.

The California Teachers Association, the No. 4 lobbying spender, and the California Chamber of Commerce, ranked No. 8, each deployed nine full-time lobbyists last session.

AT&T had three staff lobbyists – and contracts with nine outside firms.

Frustrated lawmakers taking on a moneyed interest often describe the lobbying ranks aligned against them in military terms.

“I was outgunned,” said Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, who estimated that 30 lobbyists were working against her 2008 bill to ban perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, from food packaging.

Her bill passed the Legislature, but Schwarzenegger vetoed it.

“I would see them in the hallways meeting, outside the chambers, at committee hearings,” said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, recalling her 2007 fight with the chemical industry. “They were all over the place.”

Ma’s bill – banning phthalates in plastic toys – became law. But it was the only successful chemical ban of a dozen attempted over two years. …

… Legislators and interest groups alike insist the gifts have no impact on lawmaking.

But Don Palmer, a professor who studies ethics and social responsibility, said human nature suggests otherwise.

“Sociologists call it the ‘generalized norm or reciprocity,’ ” said Palmer, associate dean at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. “We all learned it in kindergarten: When someone is nice to you or generous to you, then you feel obligated to be nice to them.”

AT&T racked up $250,000 in such giveaways to lawmakers, staff and their families in the past two years. The company declined to be interviewed.

“(AT&T) will support everybody,” said former Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman. “They will invite everybody to their boxes, both Reeps and Dems, because they just want to try and have relationships with everybody.” …

And a sidebar: how AT&T spreads the wealth.

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