• Malibu, Sacto, D.C.—Government for Sale? •
BY ANNE SOBLE
The recent release of the 2012 California Coastal Commission Conservation Voting Chart sponsored by Sierra Club California and League for Coastal Protection is an opportunity to look at changing political values.
In addition to the assessment that conservation is becoming less of a driving force in monitoring development under the aegis of the CCC, it is a reminder that this trend is being driven in part by the increasing number of paid professionals employed to negate citizen opposition to environmentally questionable projects.
The chart summary indicates, "Most cases included one or more paid agents to lobby commissioners to vote in favor of development." It adds, though "direct lobbying between agents and commissioners is required by law to be publicly disclosed and recorded as ex-parte communications, most lobbying expenditures go unreported."
In high profile cases, the emphasis is on the word "more" to describe the number of paid professionals trying to counteract public objections. In the Malibu clash over development proposed by musician David Evans, the clusters of lobbyists on occasion appeared to be in double digits. Finding out what was spent on these consultants is difficult. Lobbyists may have to register, but as already noted, most expenditures are not tallied.
Many paid professionals eschew the term lobbyist and call themselves consultants, expediters, or facilitators, but lobbyist is a term dating back to the early 1800s to reflect that they weren't allowed in legislative chambers and had to corner public officials in the outside lobby.
If there is any negative connotation to the term, it's the result of behavior that led to requiring lobbyist registration and monitoring, however lax this may be in practice.
Lobbying is not just about flattery, meals, sports tickets and other forms of entertainment—legal and not so legal; it can involve the promise of holding open the revolving door for staff and legislators to become lobbyists themselves when they leave their government jobs.
There isn't an issue with special interests employing professionals to represent them. The First Amendment and the democratic process guarantee access to government, and lobbying is done not only by development and business interests, but by charities, educational institutions, religious groups, child protection advocates, and senior citizen, animal rights and public safety organizations.
The problem is when professional lobbyists have primary access and influence as a result of their availability and expense accounts, and prevent citizen interests from equal time with legislators and staff. There are areas, such as pharmaceuticals, banking and insurance, and utilities, where lobbyists not only influence policy, they create it. Some are now beginning to question whether that is also true for land use planning on the local level.
Lobbyists can't take full credit for the powerful role they play at every level of government; citizen apathy has created a power vacuum that these professionals are happy to fill. They get paid—often quite well—for every meeting they attend and every conversation they have, and their costs are reimbursed.
Citizens, on the other hand, have to do nearly everything on their own dime. That this is inherently unfair is irrelevant. If citizens don't tightly hold on to the reins of government, they soon will find that it no longer answers to them.