Top 25 Calif. lobbyists list questions influence

February 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
It is always easy to tell when a big vote is about to happen at the Legislature, because the Capitol hallways are packed with lobbyists.

A new report by California Common Cause found a record $285 million was spent in 2011 trying to influence Sacramento, mostly from public employee unions and corporations.

The California Teachers Association spent the most, more than $6.5 million. The Service Employees International Union doled out $5 million and the Western States Petroleum Association, representing part of the oil industry, spent $4 million.

It raises the question of whether real voters are being heard.

"I don't know if voters are really being heard, right? Voters cannot put up $200 million dollars in lobbying," said California Common Cause's Phillip Ung.

Groups on the top 25 list declined requests for comment, with many giving referrals to the Institute of Governmental Advocates, which is essentially a lobbying group for lobbyists.

IGA's president didn't call back, but clearly, the goal is to sway opinions and maybe votes.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson insists special interests with money do not have a bigger say in policy, and that average Californians do count.

"Professional advocates can be helpful. They can be informative, but they should never be a substitute for us, for the people we represent," Dickinson said.

Community college student and CalWorks recipient Bathsheba Jackson doesn't feel that way.

She's met with lawmakers, begging them not to slash welfare to no avail.

"I feel as if I am the weakest link because I don't have that economic foundation to where they look and pay attention to me. I constantly feel that I'm being ignored," Jackson said.

The report also noted there are more than 2,000 registered lobbyists in California. That's 16 lobbyists per lawmaker.