State’s big­gest lob­by­ists are lo­cal of­fi­cials

Los Angeles Times - - ESSENTIAL POLITICS - JOHN MY­ERS­ers@la­

SACRA­MENTO — The stereo­type of lob­by­ing is that it’s the ex­clu­sive do­main of cor­po­ra­tions and or­ga­nized la­bor, groups spend­ing huge sums of money to qui­etly but firmly flex their po­lit­i­cal mus­cles in Sacra­mento.

But the data don’t bear that out. It’s Cal­i­for­nia’s lo­cal gov­ern­ments — cities, coun­ties and scores of other agen­cies — that spend the most of any sec­tor to in­flu­ence the out­come of events at the state Capi­tol.

It’s gov­ern­ment lob­by­ing gov­ern­ment, and it’s paid for with tax­payer dol­lars.

Quar­terly lob­by­ing re­ports filed last week show that lo­cal and re­gional gov­ern­ments and their elected of­fi­cials col­lec­tively con­tinue to out­pace all other branches of Cal­i­for­nia’s in­flu­ence in­dus­try. Through the first six months of 2017, these gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties to­gether spent more than $24.3 mil­lion on lob­by­ing in Sacra­mento.

That’s an av­er­age of about $135,000 for ev­ery cal­en­dar day, though much more in prac­tice when you con­sider that law­mak­ers are gen­er­ally in ses­sion 16 days a month.

Al­most 400 lo­cal gov­ern­ment groups have lob­by­ists, and they run the gamut from large cities to ru­ral coun­ties. So do school dis­tricts and some tribal gov­ern­ments. No level of lo­cal gov­ern­ment ap­pears to be too small: Santa Mon­ica’s rent con­trol board paid $12,246 to have some­one watch­ing the Leg­is­la­ture this spring; Sonoma County’s parks district has paid $13,500 this year to do the same.

In some cases, the lob­by­ing seems to loop back and over the same con­stituents. Los An­ge­les County has spent $745,577 on lob­by­ing this year — sep­a­rate from the $114,300 spent by its district at­tor­ney’s of­fice and the $247,084 that’s been spent since Jan­uary by the county’s Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity.

And lest you think lob­by­ing is mostly paid for by lo­cal gov­ern­ments a long ways from the state­house, take note that the city of Sacra­mento has spent $375,294 on lob­by­ists in the first half of 2017. Not only is its city hall less than a half-mile away; its mayor is a for­mer leader of the state Se­nate.

Then there’s the money that cities, coun­ties and spe­cial dis­tricts spend on statewide as­so­ci­a­tions that have their own cadre of pro­fes­sional lob­by­ists. San Diego County paid $512,956 for lob­by­ing in the first six months of the year, as well as dues that helped fuel the $393,411 for lob­by­ing spent by the Cal­i­for­nia State Assn. of Coun­ties.

Other groups may make head­lines more of­ten for their ef­forts to in­flu­ence the out­come of leg­is­la­tion and state agency reg­u­la­tions, but they spend far less than Cal­i­for­nia’s mu­nic­i­pal and re­gional gov­ern­ments. La­bor unions spent about $6.8 mil­lion on lob­by­ing through June 30, while oil and gas com­pa­nies spent about $16.7 mil­lion. Only health­care lob­by­ing, which to­taled $23 mil­lion in the first half of 2017, came close to what was spent by lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

So what drives lo­cal of­fi­cials to do so much lob­by­ing of state gov­ern­ment? Some­times it’s to make sure they’re get­ting a piece of the larger tax rev­enue pie. A num­ber of lo­cal gov­ern­ment lob­by­ing dis­clo­sure forms in­cluded ef­forts to se­cure funds in the new state bud­get and the $52-bil­lion trans­porta­tion plan signed into law this past spring. In other cases, lo­cals feel they have to play de­fense, keep­ing state law­mak­ers from im­pos­ing too many oner­ous new rules.

The lat­est lob­by­ing re­ports are not an anom­aly. Since 2013, lo­cal and re­gional gov­ern­ments have spent more than $208 mil­lion to stake out the hall­ways and com­mit­tee hear­ing rooms of Sacra­mento. It’s a re­minder that when law­mak­ers re­turn in two weeks for their fi­nal month of work for 2017, there will be plenty of chances for them to be ca­joled about the wants and needs of of­fi­cials back home.

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