Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Hey Big Daddy,
It seems like lobbying is at an all-time high around this place. Do they have too much power?
Lois in Lodi

Hey Lois,

My thoughts on the relationship between lobbying and lawmakers are well know: If you can’t eat their food, drink their liquor, etc. etc. etc. But that statement was made in another time and place, back when the Legislature was filled with people who actually did belong.
These days, I’m not so sure the underlying assumption of that quotation holds. And it’s not just because we’ve got more boring tea-totalers in the Legislature than  we used to. There’s no denying that the power of special interests has increased exponentially in this town. We just need to go to the tape to prove it.

During the last legislative cycle, special interests spent more than half-a-billion dollars to try to influence California decision makers, both in the legislative and executive branches (bribes paid to judges were not disclosed on the Secretary of State’s Web site for some odd reason).

And these groups are not doing it for their health – or in the case of many of these chemical companies, they’re not doing it for your health, either. They’re doing it because it is chump change for many of these groups to play in Sacramento compared to the financial implications the decisions made here have on their bottom lines.

But what does it really get you? Just ask organized labor if all that lobbying, or campaign giving, actually helps when it comes time for members to put up tough budget votes. Personally, I can’t wait to see all the jockeying over this alleged budget deal, as all of the ambitious statewide candidates vie for campaign position during this budget vote.

In the Assembly alone, you’ve got three Democrats – Alberto Torrico, Ted Lieu and Pedro Nava – who have all expressed interest in running for attorney general. Dave Jones is running for insurance commissioner. Over in the Senate, Jeff Denham and Democrats Alan Lowenthal and Dean Florez are talking about running for lieutenant governor. Even Mike Villines was forced last week to debunk rumors he’s running for the lite gov spot.

I’m sure I’m missing other statewide wanna-bes, but the point is the same – this vote is going to go a long way to indicate how these ambitious pols are going to sell themselves to special interests. And make no mistake, that’s what they’re doing. Do you really think it’s just coincidence that Denham stopped voting for budgets the minute he got a bit of statewide ambition in his bonnet?  

But there are some signs that not even these major political players nor their lobbyists are immune from the current international financial meltdown. Many of the folks looking for a bailout are some of our sacred Capitol’s biggest lobbyist employers. And when they don’t look good, we don’t look good.

It’ll take a few months to see how much this trickle-down actually does affect California’s political-industrial complex. But perhaps a little bit of shared pain may help rehabilitate the image most of us have of lobbyists.

OK, that’s a stretch. Lobbyists are somewhere in between Darrell Strawberry and Amy Winehouse on the list of rehabilitation candidates. That’s why they keep all those polticians and journalists around – to make themselves look better.

But even if lobbinsts aren’t heading for a full make-over, keep in mind that yesterday’s fat cat may be tomorrow’s feral kitty. And if those lobbyist expense accounts start drying up, then all of us will start to feel the pain.

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