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Access determines lobbyists’ influence in fierce, fickle Capitol

October 7, 2003 was a bad day for Darius Anderson.

A top fundraiser for Gray Davis, Anderson had counted ranking Davis
administration officials, including then-deputy chief of staff Susan
Kennedy, as friends. He founded his own lobbying firm in 1998, parlaying his
connections to the administration into a thriving business. By 2003, Davis’
last year in office, Anderson’s Platinum Advisors pulled in $3.9 million in
lobbying receipts, good for third best in the state.

But when Davis was recalled in 2003, Anderson’s influence diminished. His
shop’s lobbying receipts declined by more than $1 million as big name
clients like Microsoft, General Motors and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. all
left the firm.

“I am sure Darius took a hit,” said Garry South, Davis’ political
consultant, who experienced his own exodus of clients after the recall.

“They sent a letter saying ‘due to recent events, we have to terminate your
services,'” said South. “It came one week after the recall.” Anderson
himself declined to be interviewed for this story.

With a new Republican administration in power, many California businesses
and organizations turned to traditionally Republican lobbying firms to best
leverage their interests in the state.

Access–and often just the perception of access–drives business in the
California lobbying world.

“Lobbying, more than anything, is based on personal relationships,” says
Senate leader Don Perata, D-Oakland.

“Once you know and trust a lobbyist, you can have access to what they know
and then evaluate what they are telling you,” added Perata, who says he is
more likely to take a call from a lobbyist he is already acquainted with.

“It is a human characteristic that people respond better to people they
know,” said Phil Isenberg, a lobbyist and former Democratic legislator. “And
that’s true in the lobbying world, it’s true in private life, it’s true at a
coffee shop, it’s probably true at Capitol Weekly.”

After the recall, Platinum fell victim to the very hype that drove the
growth of the firm. During the Davis years, Anderson had carefully honed his
image as a trusted Davis confidant. So when Davis was swept from office,
Anderson went from the ultimate insider to an outsider looking in.

“I’m not close to this governor,” Anderson told the San Francisco Chronicle
in early 2004. “Will I still be able to get stuff done? Absolutely. Because
I know the system, and I know the players. It’s like a chess game, moving
pieces. Just because I lost my queen, that doesn’t mean I am finished. If
you’re a good player, you keep playing.”

But in the six months following the recall, two-dozen clients ended their
relationship with Platinum. The company went from the state’s second largest
lobbying outfit in 2002 to ninth last year, in terms of lobbying receipts.

During the 2001-02 session, Platinum had 96 clients. This session they have
had 45. The firm has dropped from a high of 12 lobbyists in 2003 to eight
today–as three women splintered off to start their own firm at the beginning
of 2004.

Clients pay a premium for top-level access to the governor’s office, and
Platinum ostensibly no longer offers such access.
But as Platinum has declined, other firms have risen.

Kevin Sloat, a Republican, is the principal lobbyist with Sloat Higgins
Jensen & Associates. Sloat shares an office with Anderson’s Platinum
Advisors on the eleventh floor of the Esquire building, three blocks from
the Capitol. Walk inside, and Sloat’s suite is on the right, Anderson’s on
the left, with a glass-walled conference room in the middle.

The companies share a receptionist and a conference room, even as their
earnings move in different directions.

Though Sloat’s firm employs three Democratic and three Republican lobbyists,
it is known around Sacramento for its close ties to Republicans. And since
Schwarzenegger’s election, the firm’s GOP ties have been in high demand.

In 2002, Sloat Higgins ranked fourteenth in the state with lobbying receipts
of $1.9 million. But in the three years since the recall, the firm has
climbed as high as 5th, garnering more than $3 million in lobbying fees in
2004 and $2.98 million last year.

Now, Sloat counts some of the same clients that once used Platinum,
including Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok
Indians.

Despite the rise and fall of lobbyists with different administrations, many
members of the lobbying core argue that access is overrated. They say
competence and knowledge of the issues are the name of the game.

“The folks that hire lobbyists for the first time tend to overemphasize
familiarity and connections,” says Isenberg. “In a short time, they learn
that lobbying is an activity that requires information, knowledge and skills
and that tends to survive no matter who is in power.”

Even so, each of the top eleven lobbying firms in the state last year had at
least one Democrat and Republican lobbyist on staff. Such a bipartisan
lobbying core is how many firms try to assure clients that no matter the
party in power, they can continue to lobby effectively.

“It can’t hurt,” said Isenberg, whose partner Maureen O’Haren is a
Republican.

Though three of Platinum Advisors’ eight lobbyists are Republicans,
including Rep. Dan Lungren’s brother, Brian, and a former Republican
legislator, the firm can’t shake the “Democratic” tag.

Nonetheless, Platinum has remained a major lobbying house under Gov.
Schwarzenegger, raking in $2.7 million in 2005. But the recent appointment
of Susan Kennedy as the governor’s chief of staff once again offers Anderson
the coveted perception of access.

Kennedy and Anderson are personal friends that vacation together in Europe.
She has attended his annual trips to Cuba, though she did not go last year.
Anderson was Kennedy’s best man at her commitment ceremony in Hawaii.

Since Kennedy’s appointment there has been no discernable uptick in business
at Platinum, though last week Sound Energy Solutions, a promoter of
Liquefied Natural Gas terminals that spent more than $200,000 in lobbying
last year, added Platinum as a lobbyist.

Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, says that
the Kennedy appointment may open the door to new business for Platinum, as
more clients look for the smallest of advantage to press their agenda.

“Clearly access is the name of the game,” said Stern. “If you tell clients,
that I can call Susan Kennedy and she will return the call promptly, what
more does a client want?”


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