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November 1997

The Spending Lobby

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:

  • Thirty-six of California's 58 counties spent $10,687,912 during 1995-96 to lobby state government. That amount far surpassed the individual lobbying efforts of three of the economic sectors said to be mainstays of the California economy: entertainment and recreation (including lobbyists for professional sports teams), $6,727,759; agriculture, $6,153,211; real estate, $6,087,409.
  • A total of 104 of California's 471 cities spent $7,313,047 to lobby the Legislature.
  • Some 35 water and irrigation districts spent a total of $5,438,744 with the largest single amount, $884,240, being spent by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
  • A total of $4,724,808 was spent by some 54 associations comprised of officials of various kindergarten-12th grade school districts. For example, the California School Boards Association spent $1,537,463 to lobby the Legislature. Groups such as the Association of California School Administrators ($801,872), Association of Low Wealth Schools ($192,779), the Association for Year-Round Education ($10,000) and other organizations that span virtually every aspect of public education were included in the lobbying activities.
  • Local governments often add to their own direct lobbying efforts through membership in a variety of organizations such as the League of California Cities, which spent $1,230,684 to lobby the Legislature, and the California State Association of Counties, which spent $704,495. Many counties, cities and special districts direct all of their lobbying activities through these and some 21 other organizations, including such units as the California Association of Sanitation Agencies ($380,027), the Sacramento Area Council of Governments ($40,000), the Southern California Association of Governments ($99,353) and the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California ($18,347).
  • Some 133 of the approximately 1,000 K-12 school districts in California spent a total of $3,766,802, with the Los Angeles Unified School District alone spending $739,531 to influence lawmakers. Other major players in the K-12 lobbying effort included the Fresno District, $91,590; Hacienda-La Puente Unified District, $162,487; the Long Beach Unified District, $210,031; the Oakland Unified District, $149,167; the Sacramento City Unified District, $152,095; the San Diego Unified School District, $299,227, and the San Francisco Unified District, $98,027.
  • Twenty-six transit agencies involved in rail and highway transportation spent $3,418,616 to lobby the Legislature, including $824,493 spent by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency and $487,118 spent by the California Transit Association. Other big spenders in the transportation lobbying arena included AC Transit ($162,207), the Alameda County Transportation Authority ($99,378), the Bay Area Rapid Transit District ($177,183), the Orange County Transportation Authority ($328,327), the Santa Clara County Traffic Authority ($97,939), the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency ($188,684), and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District ($94,551).
  • A half-dozen unions comprised of people who work in public education spent $4,556,183 to influence the Legislature, with $1,985,108 coming from the California Teachers Association and $1,599,545 coming from the California School Employees Association. The California Federation of Teachers spent $466,950 on lobbying while the United Teachers of Los Angeles spent $131,096 to influence lawmakers. The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges spent $220,599 to lobby the state while the California Faculty Association spent $152,885 to support and oppose various legislative proposals.
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 total of $3,284,102 in lobbying activities was financed by 25 public employee unions and other associations that represented a variety of local and state employees. The California Professional Firefighters, for example, spent $532,161 to lobby the Legislature and the California State Firefighters Association spent $252,849 while the California State Council of Service Employees spent $524,871. The California State Employees Association spent $358,068 to lobby the state, while the Professional Engineers in California Government spent $211,917.

    Other big spenders among the employee unions and other groups were the Association of California State Attorneys and Administrative Law Judges that spent $161,927 and the California Independent Public Employees Legislative Council that spent $189,737. Even retired workers have a stake in what the Legislature does and the Retired Public Employees Association spent $136,567 to lobby. 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.

  • A total of 34 law enforcement-oriented entities, ranging from county Sheriff's Departments to unions representing police and deputies, spent $3,158,289 to lobby the Legislature. Of that, a total of $639,910 came from the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC). The Los Angeles County District Attorney, for example, spent $376,271 to lobby the Legislature while the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spent $144,041. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spent $183,673 to lobby the state.

    Meanwhile, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs spent $122,603 to lobby the state while the California Association of Highway Patrolmen spent $204,763 to lobby lawmakers concerning highway laws and working conditions for individual patrolmen. The California Correctional Peace Officers, whose members guard some 146,210 state prisoners, spent $545,694 to lobby lawmakers. The California Judges Association lobbied to the tune of $196,795 while the California State Sheriff's Association spent $97,917 to influence the lawmaking process. The Los Angeles Probation Department Union, which is Local 1685 of the AFSCME, spent $91,132 for lobbying activities

A half-dozen unions comprised of people who work in public education spent $4,556,183 to influence the Legislature.
  • Nine Community Service Districts and Recreation and Park Districts around the state spent $1,523,838, with the largest amount, $256,472, being spent by the East Bay Park District.
  • Eighteen County Offices of Education spent $1,385,663 to influence members of the Legislature, with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools spending $398,207 and the Los Angeles County Office of Education spending $303,657. Other big spenders among the county education offices include the Orange County Department of Education ($180,453) and the San Diego Office of Education ($172,008).
  • Some 20 Community College Districts and related organizations spent $1,224,120, with the Los Angeles Community Colleges District spending $318,957 of that amount.
  • Four smog control districts spent $914,867 to lobby the state on proposed pollution laws, with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which includes the Los Angeles air basin, spending the most, $630,203. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District spent $166,872 on lobbying.
  • Lobbying spending by nine redevelopment agencies and related organizations totaled $667,898, with the largest single amount of that being the $342,878 spent by the California Redevelopment Association. Other lobbying spending by redevelopment units was included in the reports filed by the cities in which the redevelopment agencies operate.
  • A dozen associations of local officials spent a total of $650,062 to lobby the Legislature, with the groups including the County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California ($139,487), the County Welfare Directors Association of California ($63,264) the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers ($139,455).
  • A total of $316,620 was spent by four legal entities on lobbying, with $204,616 of that coming from the California District Attorneys Association and $53,105 from the Los Angeles Superior Court.
  • Two groups involved in bilingual education, the California Association for Bilingual Educators Education ($191,669) and the California Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages ($47,800) spent a total of $239,469 to lobby the Legislature.
  • Five sanitation districts and related groups spent $229,464 on lobbying.
  • Five groups involved with public libraries and school libraries spent $179,923 to lobby the state.
  • Three county fair districts spent $101,977 on lobbying.
  • Two groups involved with public higher education, the California State Student Association ($31,927) and the Council of University of California Faculty Associations ($46,577) spent a total of $78,504.
  • Two groups involved with fire protection, the Aromas Tri-County Fire Protection District ($15,000) and the California Fire Chiefs Association ($48,734) spent a total of $63,734 on lobbying.

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.