"Lobbyists" and "lobbying" have become pejorative terms in regarding their influence on government decision making. Critics want ever increasing restrictions, or even bans, on who can lobby and what they can be paid. Many pundits decry the influence of lobbyists and claim many of the impasses in government are the fault of lobbyists and their claimed unbridled influence.
So, what is a Lobbyist? The generic definition is that it is someone who tries to persuade an elected official or government officials on behalf of a particular position. The term appears to have originated from the 1750's when people would gather in a lobby near the English House of Commons to express their views to the English Parliament. The term came to the United States in the early 1800's and was well in place soon thereafter in Congress. A lobbyist is basically an advocate for his clients regarding legislation or regulation in Congress or the State Legislature, or local issues which need City Council or Board of Supervisor approval.
Over the years many laws and regulations have been adopted regarding lobbying. Congress and Sacramento have numerous laws and regulations, as do many local jurisdictions including Santa Clarita County and the Cities of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles. Most jurisdictions require reporting so that the public at least knows who has hired a lobbyist. Several jurisdictions require more extensive reporting and impose limits on gifts and political contributions.
I became active in politics when I entered the University of Southern California in 1973 which led to my interest in attending law school. I recall learning in one of my classes about a notorious California Lobbyist by the name of Artie Samish who from the 1930's until the early 1950's called himself the governor of the Legislature. Samish and his clients ran candidates, stacked committees and protected their interests, such as the liquor industry. His downfall in the early 1950's started the impetus for a full time paid legislature, which California voters approved in 1966. (See The Secret Boss of California Artie Samish and Bill Thomas, 1971)
When I began work in 1983 as the Chief of Staff for State Senator Ed Davis, the former Santa Clarita Police Chief, one of the early stories he told me about his experience in Sacramento representing the Los Angeles Police Protective League (the rank and file officers) in the late 1950's. This was an unpaid lobbyist position simply representing local officers on crime related legislation. He described how he went to dinner one night with several other lobbyists and they described how they treated each new member of the legislature. They would take him out to a meal and after socializing present a brown paper bag full of cash. The legislator would be told to put his hand in the bag and grab as much as he could of the mixture of 5, 10, 20 and a few 50 dollar bills. The lobbyists would then tell the legislator that during the session when they needed his vote they would have another meal and give him another opportunity with the brown paper bag.
Although there is a lot of history regarding untoward influence and abuses by lobbyists, my experience is different. In 1983 I became State Senator Ed Davis' Chief of Staff and experienced lobbyists really for the first time. I learned that there were multiple levels and types. There were the public interest lobbyists who worked on small budgets, there were the high priced lobbyists who worked for major corporations and unions. And there were the unpaid lobbyists who worked for associations such as the Board of Realtors, Chambers of Commerce and other interest groups. I learned about the "interest days" when a particular organization, such as doctors, nurses, realtors would come from throughout the state to meet with legislators. Yes their lobbyists helped organize these days, but the unpaid local members would be the individuals meeting with their legislator and provide a local constituent understanding on their issues of importance.
I learned and experienced that good ideas and proposals were enhanced by professionals who understood how government worked and the best way to advocate for either legislation or approvals. While there are issues which tend to polarize the political parties and interest groups such as business, labor or environmentalists, there are many issues where there are opportunities to work cooperatively on the details and intricacies of a bill.
After 9 years as Chief of Staff with State Senator Ed Davis I returned to the private law practice in 1993. Due to my political experience it was logical for me to begin representing parties who had interest or issues with government. Sometime I even represented government agencies such as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Castaic Lake Water Agency. I have been a registered lobbyist in Sacramento since that time and am now also registered in Santa Clarita County and Santa Clarita.
There are almost 2000 registered lobbyists in Sacramento representing thousands of clients. They are all trying to advocate for their client's interests. With issues such as the Affordable Care Act, Workers Compensation, AB 32 (Carbon Tax), and Economic Development, local businesses should be involved now more than ever with what Sacramento or Congress are doing which could affect your ability to just not succeed, but even survive. Many local businesses are not members of local associations like the Board of Realtors where they can pool their resources. An advocate can provide updates on a daily and weekly basis on what issues are being considered which will impact your business and assist a business in getting its concerns and messages to both its local elected officials, along with key members of the Legislature from other areas. Sometimes the issue may be peculiar to a local company or industry. In those cases retaining an advocate for your particular issue or regulation can make all of the difference. One of my past clients administered Voluntary Disability Plans in the State of California, which is an approved alternative to the State Disability system. The State does not like these plans because they are used by larger employers and cost less while providing higher benefits. As a result the State tried to adopt new regulations which would have removed the advantages for companies to have these plans. In working with the company we were successful in making necessary changes to these regulations that allowed the plans to continue.
Advocacy at the local level deals primarily with land use, administrative issues, and taxation. Development and its impacts are frequently at the center stage. Local Government can be intimidating even for a business who needs to just obtain a Minor Use Permit (which is usually granted administratively) to operate. Attempting to navigate this process by yourself can be more than frustrating. It can cost you thousands of dollars unnecessarily and also result in the rejection of a proposed project. A successful advocate knows the jurisdiction, knows the local policies and community and understands how to resolve issues with both the local City or County and the community. The result will almost never be 100% of what your client wants, but an advocate can get your project approved in a form which will make it profitable to develop.
The next time you hear a negative story about lobbyists or paid advocates, keep in mind that lobbyist are a positive and beneficial tool for your business and its economic success.