Sunday, March 29, 2009

Who Really Runs California

Today's Sacramento Bee has a lengthy article on how special interests and their lobbyists get their way in state government. The graphic accompanying the article lists the spending of some of those special interests, and the totals for a single state are rather staggering. What is even more staggering is how successful those special interests have been.

Special interests spent a record $553 million lobbying California state government in the past two years.

For them, it was money well spent.

Makers of chemical fire- retardants poured in more than $9 million to kill a ban on fire-proofing chemicals in furniture that consumer groups say cause cancer.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians used $4.39 million to muscle through a gambling deal to let the tribe add thousands of lucrative new slot machines to its casino.

The oil industry spent more than $10.5 million to influence the Legislature and state agencies. A 2007 industry association report touted that even in a Democratic-controlled Legislature, "of the 52 bills identified as priorities (in 2007), only three that we opposed were approved by the Legislature."

Of those three, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two.

And that money doesn't just go towards wining and dining legislators or taking them to the Sacramento Kings basketball games. A lot of it is directed to mass mailing, television commercials, and full page newspaper ads:

When retail lobbying is not enough, well-heeled interests have the resources to mobilize public relations campaigns – or at least threaten to do so – to ratchet up the pressure.

In early 2007, the Morongo tribe was telling every reporter and lawmaker within earshot of the Capitol that it had allotted $20 million for a PR offensive to win its battle for more slot machines.

The tribe vowed a statewide TV blitz, 500,000 pieces of direct mail, phone calls and even a door-knocking campaign in the districts of the 10 Democrats on the Assembly's gambling committee.

It appeared to be a "shock-and-awe"- scale effort to press for its gambling expansion aimed at majority Democrats. One lawmaker called the tribe out for bullying tactics.

As it turned out, the tribe spent only $3.5 million that quarter, according to financial disclosures filed months later. But the message had been sent – the tribe had the resources to alter the political playing field in Sacramento. Its casino expansion was approved.

The threat worked on this specific issue, and the state legislators involved will remember that threat the next time the tribe comes around. The Chamber of Commerce has been working that same angle for decades with its "job-killer" designation on bills the business community wants stopped.

In 2008 alone, 29 of the 39 "job killers" identified by the chamber died in the Legislature. Schwarzenegger vetoed nine of the remaining 10 that made it to his desk.

As the article makes clear, it's not just the money involved which makes the lobbyists so successful. Because of term limits, a lot of legislators don't have the knowledge to navigate state government. Lobbyists (of all people!) are now seen as the repository of institutional memory. Many new members of the assembly get crash courses on how to shepherd a bill through the legislature from their new best friends, thereby giving the lobbyists not only precious face time but also gratitude from the noobs.

So, now we know who runs this state government, and it's not the citizens of California or the people they send to Sacramento. The next question is what do we do about it? Hopefully the Bee has some ideas.

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Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

The Cure?

Two words...

Public financing

fot ALL elected offices....

Otherwise nothing changes...

nagahapun, ahno...

but there it is...

5:51 AM  

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