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The 'Spending Lobby' Swings a Well-Financed Stick
By Dirk Werkman
As the California Legislature considered thousands of bills during the 1995-96 session, lobbyists spent a record $266,939,599 to convince lawmakers to alter, drop, kill or pass many of those measures. The fates of those bills touched nearly all aspects of our lives, from taxes to education, crime to the environment.
The public perception is that virtually all of those lobbying dollars are provided by business interests. Think again. In fact, approximately one of every four of those dollars used to lobby the Legislature and state government - a grand total of $59,396,100 - were spent not by private interests, but by an expanding army of lobbyists who represent one of the most powerful special interests at work in Sacramento.
There is an umbrella description for these forces who advocate more government: The Spending Lobby.
Representing myriad interests, the Spending Lobby's public employee union and local government advocates are involved in everything from traffic congestion to controlling mosquitos. They work for richer retirement benefits and better working conditions and also for more money to pay for schools, health, welfare and other services. They seek funding to carry out state mandates.
They are all riveted to the process of finding and spending tax dollars. The work of these advocates plays a critical role in state and local levels of taxes and fees.
They sometimes stand 10 deep waiting to testify at legislative policy committee hearings, having circled the wagons to protect their slices of the tax dollar pie.
In 1961, there were 108 lobbyists employed in Sacramento by counties, cities, school districts and related groups, according to an official directory for the legislative session.
In 1997, it was not possible to count the number of individuals lobbying for local governments in the directory, because of the way the book was set up. But there were 528 employers of lobbyists representing counties, cities, school districts and related groups.
Some of the 528 "lobbyist employers" who represent the Spending Lobby have more than one lobbyist on their staffs. For example, the city of Los Angeles and the League of California Cities each employs four lobbyists. Conversely, some contract lobbyists represent more than one city or public entity.
In addition to their in-house lobbyists, some lobbyist employers in the Spending Lobby hire private lobbying firms to help them sway lawmakers.
Campaign contributions also come into play, particularly for the well-heeled public employee unions such as the California Teachers Association. Government agencies, however, cannot make campaign contributions, and locally elected officials often are seen as political rivals, past, present or future, to those holding the purse strings in Sacramento.
Those $59,396,100 were siphoned from the hundreds of millions of tax dollars these entities received during 1995-96 to provide police and other city services and to educate students. Instead, tax dollars were spent to obtain more tax dollars, or to block or seek new regulations.
Individual counties, cities, school districts, community college districts, recreation and park districts, redevelopment agencies and dozens of other public agencies spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to try and influence state government, according to an analysis of a state report on lobbying.
The basis of the study was "Lobbying Expenditures and The Top 100 Lobbying Firms" for 1995-96, issued last June by Secretary of State Bill Jones. The report showed that during the biennial legislative session that began January 1, 1995, and ended December 31, 1996, a total of $266,939,559 was spent to influence California's state government. Mr. Jones called the amount spent on lobbying a "record high," declaring it well above the previous record, $250 million, which was set in 1993-94.
Spending on lobbying in 1995-96 was up dramatically from the $233,872,097 reported in 1991-92 and the $193,575,480 reported for 1989-90.
Local government's record $33,563,700 spent on lobbying in 1995-96 was up from $31.7 million in 1993-94.
Beyond the amounts spent by individual counties, cities, school districts and other units, millions of additional taxpayer dollars were funneled by local government to organizations such as the California State Association of Counties, League of California Cities and the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities, which in turn spent huge sums on lobbying.
Officials who work for the cities, counties, school districts and other entities created their own organizations, which pumped millions of additional tax dollars into lobbying activities. Those organizations are comprised of everything from county treasurers and tax collectors to agricultural officials to welfare directors to game wardens and school principals.
Individual police officers and school teachers and virtually all categories of government employees formed their own public employee unions and related organizations, which in turn spent millions of dollars on lobbying activities.
Government lobbyists armed with taxpayer dollars are fighting other taxpayer-funded lobbyists, with the taxpayers who funded these arms races often left on the sidelines.
|Veteran journalist Dirk Werkman, now with Spectrum Newspapers in Sacramento, began his newspaper career in 1961 with the Pasadena Star-News, where he was a political writer. He also has worked as capital bureau chief for the Los Angeles Daily News and as editorial page editor of the Sacramento Union.|
The nearly $34 million spent by counties, cities, special districts and related organizations to lobby the state was well above the $30,831,647 spent by physicians, hospitals, nurses and other components of the health industry to lobby the Legislature.
Local government's lobbying effort easily surpassed the collective expenditures of the finance and insurance industries, which spent $28,965,837 during 1995-96 to lobby the Legislature. Local government lobbyists spent more than their counterparts in the manufacturing and industrial sector, who spent a total of $28,459,113.
While the nearly $60 million in lobbying funds spent by public employee unions and taxpayer-supported entities - cities, school districts, etc. - dwarfs any single segment of private sector lobbying, the massive figure tells only part of the story. Millions of additional tax dollars are spent each year by dozens of state agencies to lobby the California Legislature. Because state departments are not required to report the amount spent on lobbying, those activities are not reflected in the lobbyists' expense reports filed at the Secretary of State's Office.
Most state agencies and departments, however, have government affairs units and other categories of employees who analyze bills and attempt to shape legislation by appearing before Assembly and Senate Committees. They are lobbyists assigned to protect their agencies' budgets from legislative axes.
Besides the annual budget deliberations, many bills authored by the 80 Assembly members and 40 senators are actually sponsored by a state department. The State Board of Equalization may sponsor two dozen bills a session, for example.
An analysis of the basic figures in the Jones report and a grouping of tax-funded lobbying efforts showed that some 30 different categories of local agencies and local officials/employees conducted the nearly $60 million Spending Lobby drive to influence the Legislature, with California's counties spending the most money.
Taxpayer-supported entities or organizations and unions that contributed to the government-versus-government effort are:
|Government lobbyists armed with taxpayer dollars are fighting other taxpayer-funded lobbyists, with the taxpayers who funded these arms races often left on the sidelines.|
||A half-dozen unions comprised of people who work in public education spent $4,556,183 to influence the Legislature.|
Another large expenditure that both directly and indirectly impacts the spending of tax dollars involves the $30,831,649 spent by more than 280 organizations in the health industry.
|Not all of the lobbying efforts are in the six-figure category. The Los Angeles County Lifeguard Association spent $2,000 to influence the Legislature.|
While $1,375,964 was spent by some 15 organizations that are funded primarily by tax dollars (for example, the Public Health Laboratory Association of California, which spent $36,000 on lobbying, and the Washington Township Health Care District, which spent $31,492) and are thus part of the Spending Lobby, the vast majority of the more than $30 million spent for health care lobbying dollars came from physician, nursing, and hospital groups and other health care providers that are considered primarily in the private sector.
On the other hand, many of those health care lobbying dollars are spent on efforts to maintain or increase Medi-Cal payments for a variety of services and pharmaceutical products, and to boost spending for other health-related activities funded by the taxpayers.
If the private health care lobbying dollars designed to bring more taxpayer funds to the health care industry were separated from lobbying expenses for other health purposes, the $62,780,071 used by the Spending Lobby to influence the Legislature would probably be a much higher figure.
Lobbyists for local government and other Spending Lobby interests often testify at the request of legislators and are not always demanding more funding or advocating higher taxes.
Obviously, the Legislature should not be expected to develop public policy in a vacuum. Input is needed from all interested parties.
Yet the question must be asked: Has it gone too far?
Editor's Note: Business interests obviously spend many millions of dollars lobbying state government. The California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers Association, for example, combined to spend $3,807,857 in 1995-96. The California Taxpayers' Association, which is business-oriented, spent $102,077. The purpose of this report is to shed light on the size and financial clout of other so-called special interests that generally line up on the other side and either advocate higher taxes or oppose reducing them, or tend to pursue policies that increase pressure for more spending.
|Another large expenditure that both directly and indirectly impacts the spending of tax dollars involves the $30,831,649 spent by more than 280 organizations in the health industry.|