Archived Story

Do-nothing Congress deters lobbying

Published 9:06pm Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My wife, Sue, and son, Jordan, flew to California for David and Inna Sayre’s wedding, so I got to read the Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, The Denver Post, Chicago Tribune, The Orange County Register and Sacramento News and Review.
SN&R, an entertainment weekly, published a four-page profile of the prolifically profane John Burton, whom I saw with John Oliver on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” though much of what he said had to be bleeped.
The San Francisco-based chairman of the California Democratic Party spent 45 minutes with Oliver at a Fisherman’s Wharf hotel to discuss Amazon.com’s push to overturn a tax law designed to reduce the state’s $26 billion deficit.
I learned Burton is a career politician with almost 50 years in state and national politics and a larger than life personality with allies who include former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and actor Warren Beatty.
When not spewing a “never-ending torrent of F-bombs,” Burton’s reputation is as a champion for his state’s poor and needy. He’s even a former congressman.
What I saw ran about five minutes and aired Dec. 5, 2011, lampooning the Golden State’s ballot-initiative process, but I imagine you already know where this is going. The video went viral, landing him on the cover as “California’s newest internet star.”
Actually, Sacramento Business Journal carried two of the most interesting articles I read, both about lobbying.
On the tabloid’s front page, “A record year for lobbying industry.”
Lobbying is big business in California’s capital, as you might imagine.
Spending jumped 6.2 percent to a record $284.8 million for the “third house” of government. The Business Journal characterized the $173.8 million payments to firms as a boon to the economy as “one of the region’s few growing industries.”
Lobbying peaked in 2008 when the recession hit.
Contrast California lobbying to a separate piece inside on page 10 about Washington influence, which tailed off by more than $200 million last year to $3.3 billion.
This marked the first time since 1999 that lobbying expenditures declined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
I hoped this might be a good thing until I got to the next paragraph.
Lobbyist expenditures were down in 2011 because “Congress wasn’t doing much,” according to Howard Marlowe, American League of Lobbyists president.
This anomaly will reverse in 2012 as Congress hunts for ways to avoid automatic across-the-board cuts in defense spending and decides whether to extend some or all of President George W. Bush’s income tax cuts.
Here’s one thing the federal government is doing: requiring hotel and motel operators install lifts costing $4,000 to $9,000 or shut their swimming pools.
As of March 15, “public accommodations,” including hotels and timeshares, must provide disabled access to swimming pools and spas.
Failure to comply exposes operators to Americans with Disabilities Act litigation.
Hope they’ve got good lobbyists.

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