Ex-Lobbyist Commons--a New Role on Alquist Staff

Times Staff Writer

David Commons, a major campaign contributor and wealthy former Hollywood director who last winter was stripped of special Senate privileges denied to other citizens, has joined the staff of one of the most powerful members of the Legislature.

Sen. Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose), who once rebuffed Commons’ offer to run his reelection campaign from Alquist’s office, said he hired the 71-year-old former lobbyist for $1 a year.

“I call him my dollar-a-year man,” said Alquist, powerful chairman of both the money-handling Senate budget and appropriations committees. “I pay him a dollar a year personally.”

‘An Amazing Source’


“I find him useful,” Alquist said. “He’s an amazing source of information. He has wide acquaintances with political figures around the state. He flatters the Capitol secretaries and picks up all the gossip that goes around.”

Alquist indicated that Commons would have no specific tasks, but pointed out that he long has operated an internship program for college students. “He’ll do much the same thing as interns, but he is more sophisticated,” Alquist said.

Commons, a former lobbyist and paid political consultant for American Medical International of Beverly Hills, a major health facilities company, enjoyed special privileges offered to no one else until controversy erupted last winter.

Among other things, he was allowed use of a Senate office in the Capitol and was given unrestricted access to the Senate chamber during floor sessions without a visitor’s pass. Commons was such a familiar figure around the Capitol that many legislative staff members believed he was actually an employee of Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles).


Lobbyists Infuriated

Commons has conceded he tried to influence legislation, but insisted he was not paid as a lobbyist. Even so, his easy access to lawmakers infuriated registered lobbyists, who are not allowed on the Senate floor and must wait outside the chamber or watch the proceedings from an upstairs gallery.

Roberti insisted Commons was merely a “volunteer” whose advice he valued. But as controversy built, the office used by Commons was taken over by regular staff members and Commons was instructed to obtain a visitor’s pass to the chamber the same as anyone else.

Commons, who wears a Senate sergeant-at-arms lapel pin, contributed $14,250 last year to legislative campaigns. As a paid consultant to American Medical, he said he gave advice on routing campaign donations to lawmakers.


Alquist said Commons had “assured me he is on no one else’s payroll” and that he would do “no lobbying or fund-raising” while working for him. He said that he checked with the Legislature’s attorney and the Fair Political Practices Commission about putting Commons on his staff and “they found nothing wrong. He’s no different than any other volunteer.”