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State lobbyists spend record amounts: report

May 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new report shows lobbying interests are more powerful than ever in Sacramento, spending record amounts of money. The study also shows there are more lobbyists than ever.

If it feels like state politicians aren't listening to you, maybe they aren't. Unless you can afford a lobbyist.

It's easy to tell when important votes are coming up in the state Capitol: the hallways are packed with lobbyists.

A new Common Cause report found lobbyists spent $67 million just in the first quarter of 2012 alone. And if that rate holds up, influence spending in Sacramento could set a record for a two-year session.

"Lobbying employers see this as a good investment for their business plan, or else they wouldn't be spending this money," said Phillip Ung, policy advocate for California Common Cause.

Labor unions and corporations are the biggest spenders trying to sway decision makers.

Big money is one thing that could be stalling a popular package of bills called the Homeowners Bill of Rights, aimed at protecting those facing foreclosure.

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) says financial institutions are wielding money to block those proposals with campaign contributions. Common Cause estimates banks and credit unions spent more than $400,000 in the first quarter.

"We're struggling, we're saying 'Enough is enough.' And we're here to say 'Stop taking dirty money from these bankers,'" said ACCE member Rose Gudiel.

State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) had a proposal to impose fines on banks for "robo-signing" documents. But like the others, it got pushed to a committee that's potentially political purgatory.

"It's very, very frustrating because you know when you take a bill like that, you know that the opponents of it are going to be very well armed up here," said DeSaulnier.

The Institute of Governmental Advocates, the lobbyists' own lobby group, didn't respond to questions related to why so much money is necessary.

But two weeks ago, before two consumer foreclosure protection bills were up for a vote, the banking industry said lobbying is a way to educate politicians.

"We're making our position known on those two issues, but again, we're not supporting them because we don't feel it's the best interest of homeowners or in the best of interests of California," said Beth Mills, California Bankers Association.

The state's current record for spending is $530 million. Common Cause believes California lobbying will reach $540 million by the end of this session.

There are now more than 2,000 lobbyists in Sacramento, versus 120 lawmakers.

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