Any way you slice the numbers inside the latest reports on lobbying California’s state government, it’s clear that the influence industry is big business. And it’s getting bigger by the day.
Interest groups spent an average of about $2 million every day the Legislature was in session this year on lobbying — adding up to almost $33 million a month and a total of $296.4 million from January through September, a period spanning the legislative year for 2019.
That’s about a 14% increase from the same time frame in 2017, which was also the first year of a two-year legislative session in Sacramento. Go back to 2015 and lobbying expenses have risen by about 24% in just four years.
Here’s a safe prediction: Once the final 2019 reports are filed, the year could easily break last year’s spending record for efforts to woo California lawmakers and top state officials.
BIG BUCKS TO LOBBY ON HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION, ENERGY
Healthcare groups were a dominant force in Sacramento this year, with combined January-to-September lobbying expenses of $34.8 million. Big bucks were spent by perennial powerhouses like the California Medical Assn. and the California Hospital Assn. But notable, too, was the spending by two of the nation’s largest kidney dialysis companies, DaVita and Fresenius Medical Care.
Both staunchly opposed Assembly Bill 290, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month, which imposes new rules affecting dialysis clinics in California that are operated by both companies. The bill’s focus on how companies are reimbursed for services provided to some patients attracted attention from a variety of healthcare interests. Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, listed AB 290 as one of the bills followed by its lobbyists, who were paid a total of more than $535,000 this year. The company was far from the only big player keeping an eye on the debate. Kaiser Permanente, which spent $1.2 million on lobbying this year, supported the bill along with other health insurance companies.
No stranger to the upper echelons of lobbying, the California Teachers Assn. spent more than $6.2 million to sway lawmakers on education issues. Few were as high-profile as the effort to impose new rules on the operation and growth of charter schools in California, long a goal of the teachers union. The group succeeded in getting Newsom’s signature on Assembly Bill 1505, which will give local school districts new power over the expansion of charter schools.
Charter school groups spent about $900,000 on lobbying, with additional dollars spent by organizations representing business and local government.
Significant money was spent, too, lobbying legislators and state government on energy issues. California’s big three investor-owned utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — spent a combined $6.1 million on lobbying. That’s a pretty big drop from the $21 million spent by the utilities in 2018 (more than half being spent last year by PG&E) as the Legislature debated a far-reaching law on utility rules in preventing wildfires. Chances are, though, the companies will ramp up their efforts again next year as Newsom has vowed to revisit those rules.
GOVERNMENT LOBBIES GOVERNMENT... A LOT
As is often the case, it’s not the most visible interest groups that are tops in what they spend to lobby. Big business and labor unions get most of the attention, but the single largest sector of lobbying is local and regional governments paying to have their voices heard in Sacramento.
Since January, government sector lobbying expenses have topped $43.2 million. Tops on the spending list: the League of California Cities, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and most of the state’s most populous counties.
A STATE HAND IN RUNNING PG&E?
When the big utility companies return to lobbying lawmakers next year, it’s unclear who will be calling the shots at PG&E, the state’s largest provider of electricity.
On Friday, a clearly frustrated Newsom invited just about everyone involved in the bankruptcy of the troubled utility to meet with him in Sacramento this week in hopes of sorting out their differences over what happens next. There are expectations PG&E’s financial woes should be settled by early next summer. He also tapped his cabinet secretary, Ana Matosantos, to add the informal title of “energy czar” to her portfolio of duties.
And the governor made it clear he’s willing to have his staff consider the once unthinkable: have the state assume some level of control over the company.
“PG&E, as we know it, may or may not be able to figure this out,” he said. “If they cannot, we are not going to sit around and be passive.”
Newsom’s got his hands full, says Times columnist George Skelton, who argued last week that it’s unlikely any previous governor has faced so many disasters at the same time.
NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND
-- Beto O’Rourke abruptly ended his presidential bid Friday, bowing to the realities of weak fundraising and an underwhelming performance that never matched the hype.
-- During the 2016 campaign, Paul Manafort pushed the idea that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s servers, Manafort’s deputy told investigators during the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
-- President Trump on Friday said Chad Wolf, a longtime Homeland Security official, would be the new acting head of the department, the fifth person in the job for this administration.
-- Trump’s tough immigration rhetoric about “removing millions” during “ICE raids” is distinctly different from the reality on the streets — the front lines of immigration enforcement.
-- The president is gambling on campaigning for Kentucky’s unpopular Gov. Matt Bevin. A defeat could fuel anxiety that the threat of impeachment is hurting him and the GOP.
-- Forty years later, some of those held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran say America and Iran have more reason to be allies than enemies. Others are not so sure.
-- Wildfires burning across California led Trump to again lash out at the state on Sunday, threatening to withhold federal funds for fighting fires.
-- Three Silicon Valley gig-economy companies have finally unveiled their 2020 ballot measure to exclude many of those they pay for work from being considered benefits-earning employees.
-- The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office will now review questions surrounding an apartment rented by the son of City Councilman Herb Wesson at a building linked to a Koreatown real estate developer.
-- Pot shop approvals have hit their limit in parts of Los Angeles, but the City Council can exceed those caps. Some worry that the application process will favor the politically connected.
-- In an unexpected turn to bitter litigation over the billion-dollar arena the Los Angeles Clippers want to build in Inglewood, the former assistant to Mayor James T. Butts Jr. has reversed much of her sworn testimony and backed a key claim by the Madison Square Garden Co. in its fight against the project. Meanwhile, plans for the project are moving forward.
Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.
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