California sees big drop in number of registered lobbyists.

Lobbyists numbers in decline, image by fotogestoeber

A dozen years ago, the number of individuals registered to lobby in California skyrocketed suddenly.

During the 2009-10 legislative cycle, 1,200 people were registered as lobbyists, according to the California Secretary of States’ online disclosure system, Cal-Access. That was about the same number of individuals registered to lobby for each of the previous five cycles: 1,248 in 1999-2000; 1,262 in 2001-02; 1,228 in 2003-04; 1,231 in 2005-06; and 1,238 in 2007-08.

But the following legislative cycle, 2011-12, the number of individual lobbyists ballooned – to 2,282.

What happened? On September 30, 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 1743, by then-Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, which required placement agents to register as lobbyists. Placement agents are financial professionals who solicit investments from California Public Employees’ Retirement system (otherwise known as CalPERS) and from the California State Teachers Retirement System (AKA CalSTRS).

As two of the biggest pension funds in the United States, it’s understandable that every broker and investment agency would want a shot at business with CalPERS and CalSTRS. So, it’s no wonder California’s lobbyist rolls expanded significantly when the definition was amended to include placement agents.

Since that time, the number of registered lobbyists grew steadily over the next five cycles – to 2,373 in 2013-14; to 2,452 in 2015-16; to 2,537 in 2017-18; to 2,539 to 2019-20; and to 2,618 in 2021-2022.

But something strange seems to have happened this cycle: the number of registered lobbyists decreased for the first time in 14 years. Through the first quarter or so of the 2023-24 legislative cycle, the number of individuals registered to lobby in California stands at a little more than 2,160.

That’s down roughly 450 lobbyists from the previous cycle.

It’s the most dramatic change in individual lobbyist registrations since the definition of a California lobbyist was amended to include placement agents.

But here’s the thing: nobody’s exactly sure what’s behind it or what it means.

Capitol Weekly discovered the drop in individual registrations as part of its recent ongoing reporting into California lobbyist rules and disclosures. Immediately, we went to the two most obvious sources for answers: California Fair Political Practices Commission and the Secretary of State. But neither agency has any idea about what, if anything, is going on.

It’s the most dramatic change in individual lobbyist registrations since the definition of a California lobbyist was amended to include placement agents.

“I have no explanation as to why the recent drop,” FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said in an email to Capitol Weekly. “You might want to chat with the folks at SOS,” he said in a subsequent message.

The folks at the SOS’ office, however, had no real insights either.

In a statement, the SOS’ office said that the “majority of the lobbyists register at the beginning of a two-year session,” but as the legislative session continues, more lobbyists will be registered until the session ends on December 31, 2024.

The SOS’s office said that the dip in registrations Capitol Weekly detected was first noticed during “the lobbying registration renewal period that started on November 1, 2022, to December 31, 2022.” But the SOS’s office said that it won’t be until the session ends in December 2024 until we know “if the number of individuals who registered as lobbyists, has increased or not, compared to previous legislative sessions.”

So has there been an actual decrease in the number of registered lobbyists in California? Or have some just been slow to register this year? Nobody really seems to know.

“There’s no less issues. No less clients,” said lobbyist Mike Belote of California Advocates and a member of the board of Open California, the publisher of Capitol Weekly.

He noted that there’s a difference between people who register as lobbyists and people who make a full-time living as a lobbyist. He said it’s possible that the people who dabbled as lobbyists decided during COVID that lobbying was too hard. But otherwise, he had no idea what could be driving down the numbers.

Other potential COVID-related explanations: People working in-house government affairs for special interests realized during the pandemic that they didn’t need to register as lobbyists if they also employed contract lobbyists. Or lobbyist employers with in-house lobbyists discovered during COVID that they didn’t need contract lobbyists as well.

Basically, the pandemic may have shown folks that their operations could be a little leaner and still manage just fine. That’s the best explanation we’ve been able to find – because the amount of lobbying work certainly hasn’t changed this cycle.

“It’s not like lobbying is going away,” Belote said.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: