Interest groups’ lobbying tally tops $500 million

California labor unions, business associations and other interest groups spent more than $558 million – about $764,000 a day –  to influence California government during the 2007-08 legislative session, according to state records analyzed by Capitol Weekly.

Leading the way was the Service Employees International Union which spent $10.9 million over the two-year period. The Western States Petroleum Association, which represents oil and gas companies, spent $10.5 million over the same biennial span.

Rounding out the list of top five spenders was the California Teachers Association ($7.9 million), the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum ($6.5 million), and the California Hospital Association ($5.9 million)
Spending for the last legislative cycle was up from $504 million spent during the 2005-06 cycle.

“If they keep paying year after year, obviously they feel they have a return on their money,” said Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies. “It shows how much more money is involved in Sacramento.”

The payments include money spent on lobbying the Legislature and state agencies.

But not all the money is going into the pockets of high-powered contract lobbyists, or even salaried, in-house association lobbyists. The vast majority of SEIU’s money, for example – $9.4 million – did not go directly to lobbyists. Instead, it was used on other lobbying activities, including busing members from around the state for rallies and legislative days in Sacramento.

“We are the largest union in the state – 705,000 members and growing,” said Courtni Pugh, head of SEIU in California. “Just to send our members one piece of mail costs thousands of dollars.”

Pugh was unapologetic about her union’s political spending. “There is no denying that we try to keep a purple presence in the Capitol,” she said, referring to the purple t-shirts SEIU members wear as they lobby legislators in Sacramento. She said the money has been spent on rallies, lobbying trips for union members from around the state, mail to SEIU members, and “patch-through” calls, which connect SEIU members directly with the offices of state lawmakers.

“Just last year alone, we did over 87,000 phone calls,” she said. “That’s all a part of the money we spend on lobbying.”

And while other sectors of the economy may be hurting, and other lobbyists have anecdotally said there has been some decrease in lobbying activity from corporate clients, Pugh says SEIU is showing no signs of letting up.

“My guess is you’ll see those numbers increase,” she said of SEIU’s advocacy spending, adding that most of the lobbying efforts this cycle will be focused on protecting service workers in the state budget process. “The most important thing to us is the budget.
While membership contact was a large source of the lobbying payments overall, private lobbying firms weren’t exactly hurting. Lobbyists reported collecting $322 million, up from $298 million in 2005-06.

The top lobbying firms in terms of billing for 2007-08 were KP Public Affairs at $12.1 million; Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor collected $11 million. Lang Hansen O’Malley and Miller reported $9.2 million; Aaron Read & Associates was fourth with $9. Capitol Advocacy rounded out the top-five list with more than $8.5 million in reported earnings over the two-year stretch. $8,542,328.07

Overall, the lobbying payments reflect the largest legislative fights of the last session. Many of the top spenders were involved in the fight over expanding health care coverage in a year when health care reform was the top legislative priority of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

SEIU was a staunch supporter of the proposal pushed by Gov. Schwarzenegger and former Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles. The California Hospital Association, the Chamber of Commerce and Blue Cross – who were all among the top ten spenders – also played key rolls in advocating for or against the health care plan.

The other big spending came from groups involved in the fight over restrictions of various chemicals. The Bromine Science and Environmental Forum  is an industry group that fought against bills restricting the use of various fire retardant chemicals. The American Chemistry Council, which spent more than $5.7 million, also fought against many similar bills seeking to ban or restrict use of various chemicals in everything from blankets to artificial butter flavoring.

The overall expenditures reflect an uptick in lobbyist payments from previous years. During the 2005-06 legislative session, interests spent just more than $504 million to influence California decision makers.

The spending from that session also reflects where the governmental and legislative action was in that session. Topping the list of lobbyist employers during that session were two telecommuncations groups – AT&T spent $23.6 million, and another AT&T backed coalition, TV 4 US, spent $15.9 million. Verizon and Comcast were also among the top lobbying spenders during that cycle.
During that session, Núñez sponsored sweeping legislation that allowed telecom companies to lay new cables and plant utility boxes in any town without asking local government permission. The bill also limited government oversight over telecom package plans.

Top lobbyist employers for 2007-08
(*Total Spent: $558,419,109)
California State Council of Service Employees            $10,962,230
Western States Petroleum Association                 $10,587,795   
California Teachers Association                 $7,976,040   
Burson-Marsteller for The Bromine Science and Environmental Forum    $6,500,665
California Hospital Association                    $5,961,373
American Chemistry Council                    $5,717,318
California Chamber of Commerce                $5,635,118
League of California Cities                    $4,415,330   
Morongo Band of Mission Indians                $4,389,197
Blue Cross of California                    $4,377,450
*Reflects the total amount spent by all groups on lobbying activity in 2007-08

(*Total Collected – $321,763,263)
KP Public Affairs                        $12,112,469   
Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor         $11,058,792
Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller                $9,203,024
Aaron Read & Associates                    $9,045,010   
Capitol Advocacy                        $8,542,32
Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates                $7,615,714   
Platinum Advisors                        $6,936,647   
Townsend Public Affairs                    $6,417,722   
Public Policy Advocates                    $6,215,386   
Governmental Advocates                    $5,934,908   
GCG Rose & Kindel                    $5,253,079   
Joe Gonsalves & Son                     $4,985,260   
The Gualco Group                    $4,928,024   
(*Reflects payments received by all registered lobbyists in 2007-08)

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