March 2011 Archives

It's a Lobbyist's Life

There were 13,740 active, registered lobbyists in Washington in 2009 according to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics (Credit: John Guenther).

While Washington natives sipped their fancy cocktails and enjoyed the air-conditioning at the D.C. Coast Restaurant in downtown, veteran lobbyist Sam Johnson* answered a phone call from his 13-year-old son.

His son was asking for permission to attend a Friday night dance sponsored by their family's local church. Johnson granted it, and then hung up.

"I'm crazy to let him go," Johnson said with a laugh while drinking his first Manhattan. "You can just feel the teen hormones flying around at those things."

As a single dad of two kids, Johnson is used to accommodating his children's needs and demands. It's a funny role reversal, though, for a veteran lobbyist who asks Congressmen to support his own requests on almost a daily basis.

Yoder Quick To Get Down With Oil and Health Insurance

Rep. Kevin Yoder advocates for smaller government and less taxes. (Courtesy of Roll Call)Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., reports a net worth below zero, making him one of the poorest members of Congress, yet he still managed to score a prized seat on the Appropriations Committee.

How did he get that gig?

By Election Day in 2010, Yoder's fundraising total amounted to nearly $2 million, more than twice that of his opponent, Stephene Ann Moore. Moore's husband, Democrat Dennis Moore, had triggered the open seat race when he decided not to run for a seventh term.

Yoder won the seat, and while most representatives wait their turn for a spot on one of the most sought-after congressional committees, Yoder forged ahead by proving he knows how to get cash fast — particularly from big-bucks industries like pharmaceuticals and oil and gas.

Giving money to a campaign does not equal outright vote-buying, of course, but Yoder's agenda does appear to be closely in line with that of his biggest contributors.

Nuclear Energy Is Safe (Say Industry-Backed Legislators)

(Credit: John O Dyer/ Flickr)Despite the recent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the nuclear industry still enjoys plenty of support back home, with legislators in both houses of Congress insisting that U.S. power plants are safe.

But how much of that support is based on hard facts and how much on financial influence?

The nuclear industry as a whole has spent over $46 million on lobbying from 1998 through 2010, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Roughly $18 million of that has come from the industry's leading trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, which, in addition to lobbying the people who write the laws on energy, has given them money, employed their former and future staffers, and honored them with leadership awards.

"Because the [nuclear] industry has been so stagnant for so long...that creates a limited amount of knowledge in this particular field," said Allison Fisher of Public Citizen, a non-profit that opposes nuclear energy. "It's dwindling, and it creates even more opportunity for revolving door issues."

Lobbying: An Insider's Take

Howard Marlowe in his K Street Office (John Guenther)Howard Marlowe is a lobbyist's lobbyist. That is to say, he's the president of the American League of Lobbyists. For 27 years he has also been the head of Marlowe & Co., a small firm with only 10 employees and about 45 clients that caters mostly to city and county governments.

We recently sat down with Mr. Marlowe at his office on K Street in Washington, D.C. He speaks in a soft, gentle voice, with a subtle twang audible on words like 'client.' He says the twang comes from his wife, a Southerner (he's from upstate New York). He's got big teeth and art deco glasses, the kind you might see on the cover of an Ayn Rand novel. He was once a teacher and later legislative director for Senator Vance Hartke of Indiana.

Marlowe said he takes ethics very seriously — more seriously than most other lobbyists. And he's proud of his job, proud to have helped his clients get things built — like better beaches and sewage treatment plants. What follows is a peek into the world of lobbying in the words of a lobbyist.

Growers Ready To Battle High-Speed Rail

Fearing California's proposed high-speed train service could cut through farmland, devalue property and undercut a $36 billion industry, Big Agriculture may be gearing up to derail the first phase of construction before plans are even finalized.

It's not a full-fledged fight just yet, but it's shaping up to be. On one side are the growers, backed by the powerful Ag industry and armed with lobbyists. On the other is the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is responsible for the project and has already begun aligning itself with the contractors, cities and unions that stand to benefit.

"There will be lawsuits," said almond grower Keith Gardiner, who owns 3,300 acres of land in Wasco that sits directly in the path of one of the proposed routes. "If backed into a corner, yeah, we are going to come out swinging."

Oil-Backed Republicans Seek Repeal of EPA CO2 Rules

(danielfoster437/Flickr)

Members of Congress argued Monday afternoon for an amendment that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, a key priority for the agency under administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

At a markup hearing for the Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican members said repealing the EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gases would bolster the economy. What they didn't mention was that the policy would also benefit the energy and natural resources sector, which makes up more than $3 million, or about 15 percent, of the collective contributions received by the 31 Republicans on the committee last year.

"This bill says 'stop' to an EPA attempting to impose policies we cannot afford that will destroy jobs we cannot afford to lose," said Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, who proposed the bill.

Graphic: How Money Flows Into Campaigns

Presidential candidates spent $1.8 billion running for office in the 2008 election cycle. In the 2010 mid-terms, $3.9 billion was spent on Congressional elections. The 2012 elections are expected to break new records in campaign finance. Here's a look at where that money comes from and how it's used.

Behind the School Board Election, a Football Stadium?

Los Angeles School Board District 5 Candidate Luis Sanchez has received $633,713.01 in independent expenditure support. (Graph: Catherine Cloutier)With independent expenditures totaling well over $3 million, the Los Angeles Unified school board election has become a battle of special interests — of unions, charter schools, and surprisingly, stadium operators — and the candidate winning the greatest share of that pie is Luis Sanchez in District 5.

At first glance, the race seems to be a battle of the unions. Independent expenditures — both supporting and opposing Sanchez — have totaled about $955,000. More than a third of that money has come from the Service Employees International Union, which raised nearly $335,000 in support of Sanchez. And United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which sponsors candidate Bennett Kayser, has spent a little more than $322,000 opposing him.

But the nearly $255,000 spent by the Coalition for School Reform to support Sanchez makes it one of the key players in this election, which is now just a day away. And among the coalition's biggest spenders is Phil Anschutz of the Anschutz Corporation, whose sister company AEG has plans before the city for a $350 million football stadium in Downtown Los Angeles (which could top $1 billion when factoring in interest repayment).

So, what links a major corporation with dreams of building an NFL stadium to a candidate for LAUSD school board? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Support for Proposed Oil Tax Limited To Green, Faux Slate Mailers

Employees at a West L.A. Oil Field (Amy Silverstein)A committee supporting a proposed oil-extraction tax for Los Angeles has spent almost all of its money so far on an unlikely pair of slate mailers, one of which was the subject of some controversy.

"The Committee To Support Measures O and P" has so far received $11,500 in contributions and spent $8,000 of that on slate mailers, according to campaign disclosure statements.

One of the mailer groups that the committee paid for an advertising spot is "Californians Vote Green," which would seem to make sense for a measure targeting the oil industry. But the other, Newport Beach slate mailer "Continuing The Republican Revolution," not so much.

Measure H and 'Pay to Play' Politics in Los Angeles

If approved on Tuesday, Measure H could go a long way toward preventing "pay-to-play" politics in Los Angeles, at least according to its supporters.

Specifically, the measure would prohibit bidders on city contracts worth $100,000 or more from contributing to city political campaigns.

"Measure H is one incremental step for getting money out of politics," said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform at the Center for Governmental Studies. "Measure H targets that group whose spending is most likely to give rise to actual or apparent corruption — city contractors."

Opposition to Oil Tax Includes a Rainbow Coalition

Gregory Brown from BreitBurn Energy speaks for No on Prop O. (Photo: Olga Khazan)The L.A. City Council is looking to make a quick $4 million by imposing new taxes, and they seem to have found a relatively easy target to pin them on: the much-maligned oil industry.

After all, who would support the same industry that brought us the BP oil spill? Not just the wealthy oil companies, it turns out, but also a surprising coalition of small minority organizations.

How to Run for City Council on $4,000

Rich GoodmanIn a small two-bedroom apartment in Van Nuys with brown shag carpeting and a cottage cheese ceiling, a French kid named Alexis sits at a desk with headphones, staring at his MacBook through black-frame glasses. As Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik plays from a boom box, Alexis' computer dials phone numbers until someone picks up. He speaks with a noticeable but not thick French accent, reading from a script:

"Hello, Maria? My name is Alex, I'm a volunteer calling about the important city council election on March 8th. Have you already voted?"

A pause, and some back-and-forth about mail-in-ballots.

"I would like to know who you are going to vote for for city council. Oh. Well, I'm supporting Rich Goodman. He's a good man for city council. He just received the L.A. Times endorsement two days ago. He's a Democrat with strong ethics and moral integrity, believes that our taxes should go to our neighborhoods and to improve our streets and sidewalks."

This scene, in this little apartment, this is how you run for Los Angeles City Council on less than $4,000. You get friends (including your dad) and perhaps a few random strangers to volunteer, making phone calls and knocking on doors.

Anthem To Raise Premiums While Making Huge Profits

Graphic: Jessica PorterAnthem Blue Cross spent $2 million lobbying the California legislature and another $1.6 million on campaign contributions between 2009 and 2010. It lobbied the Department of Managed Health Care, the Department of Insurance and the Governor's office regarding health insurance regulations.

In particular, Anthem spent a significant amount of time lobbying against SB1163, a piece of legislation that gave the state the power to review premium increases.

So what, you say? Anthem is planning to raise its premiums almost 15 percent for more than 150,000 of its members.