The ‘mandarins’ of the Legislature: consultants, chiefs, staff directors

The Legislature is often depicted―rightly_―as disorganized, free-wheeling
and squabbling, but the Assembly and Senate closely resemble the most
buttoned-down blue-chip corporation in at least one respect: salaries.

“Some people expect the Legislature to be run like a business, and it is run
like a business,” said one legislative staffer. “There’s always politics, of
course, but it (the Legislature) is really very corporate.”

Both houses, while different, have strict pay-scale, personnel and
office-management policies―at least on paper. Both have internal promotional
incentives. Both have rules, however elastic, barring nepotism. Both have
rules barring harassment, sexual or otherwise―a good thing, too, given the
regular flow of private tips to Capitol reporters, rarely printed, about
abusive bosses and lovers on the payroll. Both provide written personnel
manuals to new employees.

At the top of the Legislature’s corporate-style pyramid of 2,200 workers are
four elite categories of workers―the staff directors, the chiefs of staff, the chief administrative officers and the consultants. Together, these
personnel account for 20 percent of the legislative workforce.

Seven of every eight Assembly members have chiefs of staff, ranging in pay
from Democratic Speaker Fabian Nunez’s staff chief, at $170,000, to San
Diego Republican Mark Wyland’s chief of staff, at $42,000. Forty-three of
the chiefs of staff make more than $80,000 annually, and 29 make more than
$90,000. The six-figure club has 11 members―and all serve at the behest of
the leadership. While there are 80 Assembly members, there are only 71
people listed as chiefs of staff―but the eight legislators without staff
chiefs typically have someone else, with a different title, serving in that

The story is similar in the 40-member Senate, which has 33 chiefs of staff,
including 18 that make $90,000 or more, which means that several senators
don’t technically have any staff chiefs at all. One senator, fiscal
conservative Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks, actually has two chiefs of
staff―each making $100,752 annually. According to the Legislature’s
employment database, McClintock is the only member of the Legislature with
two chiefs of staff.

In an even more select category are the staff directors, who as a group earn
more than the chiefs of staff.

For example, only a half dozen of the Senate’s 42 staff directors earn less
than $90,000 annually―the lowest paid staff director makes $84,120. All of
the others earn from $101,520 a year to $133, 248 annually, with five at the
top level. The highest-paid staff directors handle the some of the Senate’s
most critical administrative functions―such as the bill analyses,
procurement, the Senate leader’s chores, budget and tax issues. Of the
Senate’s 980 employees, only six earn more than the highest-paid staff
director. Those include the sergeant at arms, several assistants to the
leader and the Senate’s top administrative employee, Greg Schmidt.
In the Assembly, the terminology is different, but the functions are

There is no “staff director” position, but the consultant positions are
divided according to salary, function and position, such as chief
consultant, principal consultant, senior consultant and consultant. Some of
those functions can include responsibilities similar to those of staff
director in the Senate. The Senate, conversely, has one category for
consultant―plain old consultant.

There are 59 Assembly chief consultants, and all but a handful make more
than $80,000, and there are 85 principal consultants, who top out at
$132,564. The principal consultants are an eclectic group, they do
everything from handling chores in district offices and fielding press
questions to analyzing and drafting legislation in key committees, offering
political strategy and advising the leadership.

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