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Hey, Big Spenders! We See You Walking the Halls of the CA Capitol
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By CalMatters
Published 5 months ago on
November 14, 2023

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You can call it advocacy, influence peddling, or the more neutral lobbying. But whatever the name, it can help determine the fate of key legislation — and it’s a big business at the state Capitol.

Sameea Kamal portrait

Sameea Kamal

CalMatters

How big?

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, more than $358 million was spent by nearly 4,000 companies, organizations, and local governments to lobby California’s government. That’s a slight increase from the $333 million during the same nine months in 2022.

Chevron Leads the Pack

CalMatters data journalist Jeremia Kimelman analyzed the numbers for the past legislative session and also found:

  • Chevron Corp. ($10 million) and the Western States Petroleum Association ($5.3 million) spent the most on lobbying. For the past four legislative sessions, they were among the top three lobbying spenders. Among the bills they lobbied on: a “windfall profit” tax on the oil industry that was watered down.
  • The third highest spender was the Hawaiian Gardens Casino in Los Angeles County at $5.1 million, far more than the roughly $120,000 a year it spent in recent legislative sessions. This year, it lobbied on bills regulating card rooms.
  • The fourth biggest spender was McDonald’s at nearly $5 million, focusing on a bill to raise wages for fast-food workers. The industry and unions eventually agreed to a deal to increase the minimum wage to $20 an hour next April.
  • Since January, 33 companies have spent more than $2 million to lobby the powerful California Public Utilities Commission. It recently allowed “robotaxis” to operate in San Francisco, then reversed itself after a crash.

For more details on what was spent on lobbying, read Jeremia’s story.

Local Governments Hire Lobbyists, Too

It’s not just industry groups and unions spending money to win over lawmakers and policymakers.

As CalMatters has detailed, local governments use their taxpayers’ money to lobby the Legislature and state agencies, often on policy but sometimes for more tax money.

As of early August, local governments, water districts, and transit agencies had spent nearly $24 million, about 10% of the total. That analysis showed that some smaller local governments hire lobbying firms to represent them, but they don’t always know the specific legislation.

Another CalMatters analysis this year looked into trips by legislators paid for by special interest groups — and the lack of transparency.

Since a law took effect in 2016, disclosure forms have been filed for only two events — despite legislators reporting millions of dollars in sponsored travel and dozens of trips during that period. One form was filed last year and the second only after CalMatters made inquiries.

Sign up for CalMatters newsletters at this link.

About the Author

Sameea Kamal is a reporter at CalMatters covering the state Capitol and California politics. She joined CalMatters in June 2021 from the Los Angeles Times, where she was a News Desk editor. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia Journalism School. 

About CalMatters

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

 

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