Access and payback...
[by Jon Coupal] 10/12/05
a prominent Sacramento lobbyist revealed the secret of his
success to a group of political insiders. "You keep putting
something in the favor bank," he told them, "and
eventually they feel they owe you."
He went on
to describe how he would manage to ingratiate himself with
lawmakers, even going so far as to ask those with college-age
offspring if they needed help getting them into the university
of their choice.
We may never
know how many pieces of legislation he personally impacted,
but collectively, professional lobbyists have a big say as
the laws we will live under are molded.
Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard
Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest
taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles
and Sacramento. [go to website] [go
to Coupal index]
years, under pressure from the media and public, lobbyists
their approach. No longer do they operate in the
freewheeling atmosphere that spawned the famous advice from Speaker
Jess "Big Daddy" Unruh that any legislator who couldn't
eat the lobbyists' food, drink their liquor and make love to
their women, and still say "no," didn't belong in the
Legislature. (His actual language was a bit more graphic).
But one thing remains a constant: the favor bank is open for
business. Each year, records show, lobbyists spend hundred of
thousands of dollars on gifts to lawmakers, their families and
staff members. These freebies include golf games, steak dinners,
and tickets to concerts and sporting events.
And this is certainly not a partisan issue. Records show that
Democrats and Republicans are equally adroit at scooping up the
free goodies offered by lobbyists and their employers.
While these gifts are legal, if reported, many citizens ask
if it is right for our representatives to accept them. They can't
help but wonder what is expected in return.
It is difficult to describe these gifts as bribes in the classic
sense, in that they come with no direct request for a specific
response or action on the part of the lawmaker. However, there
can be no doubt that the providers of these gifts are seeking
When Charles Keating,
the S&L mogul who later served prison
time for defrauding his customers, was being investigated, he
was asked what he hoped to gain from the tens of thousands of
dollars he had donated to members of the United States Senate.
Did he expect to gain access, he was asked directly. Keating
replied that he darn well hoped so.
While tickets to a basketball game may not guarantee the same
access as thousands of dollars in contributions, the principle
is the same. If the average constituent is seeking an office
appointment with a representative at the same time as the lobbyist
who provided expensive concert tickets to a sold-out venue, who
do you suppose will get through the door first? Let's hope the
constituent brought a magazine, because there may be a long wait.
Perhaps it is too
much to ask, but since taxpayers provide state lawmakers with
a generous salary, a per diem that more than covers
their expenses, and a car, couldn't they just say "no" to
all gifts and freebies from lobbyists? Closing the favor bank
would help restore the people's confidence in the integrity of
is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association