Sacramento’s scandal-in-waiting

Published on

following op-ed commentary by JAMIE COURT, author of "Corporateering",
and president of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and
Consumer Rights, was published in the Los Angles Times on Tuesday,
January 24, 2006:


In the wake of the Abramoff, Cunningham and DeLay scandals, all
eyes have turned to lobbying reform in D.C. And deservedly so. But
Washington is just the beginning. In fact, the kind of lobbying that
goes on in the nation’s capital also exists — often more brazenly,
more openly and with bigger dollar amounts — in every state capital in
the country, including Sacramento.

Jack Abramoff’s former lobbying firm, for example, did not
open shop in Sacramento earlier this month for the fine food.
California is the Wild, Wild West for influence-peddling greased by
campaign cash, self-dealing and insider connections.

More money is spent lobbying in California than in any other
state in the nation. The $212 million spent by California lobbyists in
2004 dwarfed the runner-up lobbying state, Texas, by $50 million and
third-place New York by almost $70 million. In only one of the
remaining 47 states — Minnesota — did lobbyists even reach the
$50-million mark.

Most of the 1,000 lobbyists working the state capital traffic
in more than information. Of the $250 million that, by conservative
estimates, is contributed to California state campaigns during a
gubernatorial election cycle, the bulk comes from corporations,
professional associations, unions and other interest groups that employ
lobbyists in the state.

The most highly paid hired guns in Sacramento have two silver
bullets: access to vast amounts of campaign cash and connections to
people — such as the governor or Assembly speaker — who are even more
powerful than the legislator being lobbied.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, who came to office
purportedly to clean up a corrupt capital, keeps a coterie of high-paid
consultants on his campaign payroll — consultants who also are paid by
corporations that have sought and won favorable decisions from the
administration. And often those favors were backed up by big campaign

Schwarzenegger’s chief consultant until last week was Mike
Murphy. While Schwarzenegger paid Murphy more than $700,000 for his
campaign and ballot-measure consulting, Murphy’s firm simultaneously
represented 35 clients, many that did business with the state,
including the American Insurance Assn. and Wal-Mart.

Murphy claims that he does not lobby the governor on behalf of
his clients. Yet on the same day this fall that Schwarzenegger vetoed
SB 399, a bill that would have ended a major taxpayer subsidy for
insurers (by forcing them to repay government medical programs when
they should be responsible for the cost of an accident), the American
Insurance Assn. delivered a $105,000 check to a
Schwarzenegger-controlled ballot-measure campaign committee. Also on
that day, Oct. 7, the governor vetoed an insurance benefits disclosure
bill opposed by Wal-Mart — and simultaneously collected $250,000 from
Wal-Mart heiress Christy Walton. The committee that received the checks
also paid Murphy consulting fees.

Or consider Schwarzenegger’s chief fundraiser, Marty Wilson.
Wilson’s firm was paid $453,967 by Schwarzenegger’s campaign
committees, but it also represented clients that had business before
the state and that contributed to those campaign committees. Wilson
client CGI-AMS, an information technology and business services company
that obtained a state contract, gave a $25,000 contribution to
Schwarzenegger two months before receiving the contract.

This is not just a Republican disease. Former Gov. Gray Davis’
top advisors, Gary South and Darius Anderson, represented corporate
clients with business before the state that lavished campaign cash on

These gubernatorial advisors from both parties claim they
never discuss their private clients’ business with the governor. Of
course, they may use their knowledge of the governor’s priorities to
"help" their clients. Or they may try to influence other
decision-makers who are beholden to the governor, using their personal
relationship with him as leverage.

In Capitol parlance, that’s often called "strategic services"
(rather than lobbying). Outdated disclosure rules in California allow
some of Sacramento’s most influential power brokers to not register as
lobbyists if they talk about legislative "concepts" and not specific

These disclosure rules need to be overhauled. Nor should any
paid consultant of a governor be allowed to have clients that have
business before the state.

The Abramoff scandal has proved nothing if not that the line
between public and private service needs to be clear and bright. And it
reminds us that the nexus of politics and money in the capital is
cancerous to the body politic and to the creation of good public

Consumer Watchdog
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