Calaveras, Alpine sheriffs lobby for federal money

WASHINGTON -- The Calaveras and Alpine county sheriff's departments are calling for lobbying backup in their bid for federal dollars.

Joining a trend seemingly untouched by politicians' anti-lobbying rhetoric, the law enforcement agencies last month jointly signed up a Washington-based representative. In particular, the rural departments hope to collar communications equipment funds.

"This gives us a more direct connection to our federal partners in Washington," Calaveras County Undersheriff Michael Walker said Friday.

Walker and Capt. Clay Hawkins, commander of the department's Special Operations Bureau, returned late Thursday from a four-day swing through Washington. Along with two partners from Alpine County, and guided by their lobbyist from the Ferguson Group, the law enforcement officers made the Capitol Hill rounds.

They are seeking $13 million, from an assortment of federal agencies, in order to help install a microwave communications system. The system will tie together Alpine and Calaveras counties and, eventually, bring in Amador and Tuolumne counties as well.

"We need to install repeaters," Walker said, "and because we're talking about mountainous territory, we have to install a lot of (them)."

The new contract signed March 4 with the Ferguson Group makes the Calaveras and Alpine county sheriff's departments the only ones in the Central Valley region to hire their own D.C. lobbyist, according to public records available through the CQ MoneyLine Web site.

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Department is among the few others in California to have its own lobbying firm, the public records show. The Bay Area agency reported paying the National Group firm $80,000 last year for help with funding "law enforcement technologies," according to public filings.

But even when they don't hire their own exclusive lobbying firms, California law enforcement agencies have long known the benefits of professional help in navigating the federal maze.

Frequently, cities and counties hire lobbying firms that represent law enforcement as well as other municipal responsibilities. In recent weeks, for instance, the elected Stanislaus and Fresno County sheriffs joined delegations from their respective counties on annual lobbying trips to the nation's capital.

Calaveras County has been a client of the Ferguson Group since 2004. The county reported paying the lobbying firm about $90,000 last year for help on federal funding, rural school aid and other issues. The county dropped its Ferguson Group contract this year, Walker said, and this prompted the sheriff's department to sign a separate contract with the lobbying firm.

"We have some momentum with this project," Walker said.

Costs are reported quarterly. The lobbyist now handling the sheriff's department, Kristi More, had previously helped represent the overall county. A University of California at Davis graduate, More formerly worked for a California state legislator and as an intern with the California Cattlemen's Association.

More's legislative background is fairly typical among lobbyists. The city of Tracy, for instance, signed up in January with the lobbying firm Patricia Jordan & Associates. Among the associates now representing the city is Marla Livengood, who formerly worked as legislative director for former Tracy-area congressman Richard Pombo.

Tracy and sheriff's departments, in turn, are but two of the 2,074 clients who have signed new lobbying registration forms since Jan. 1. These others range from the Visalia-based California Dairies Inc., which hired its lobbying firm last month, to the Sacramento-based California Association of Winegrape Growers, which signed its lobbying firm in February.