Commentary: Reform efforts often thwarted by lobbying

This editorial appeared in The Sacramento Bee.

To say that money influences political decisions is to state the obvious. But in his special report on money and politics, The Sacramento Bee's Shane Goldmacher went beyond the obvious. He followed the money, documenting exactly whose money was spent, where it went and what policy was influenced.

He also traced the growth of so-called independent expenditures, those campaign efforts sponsored by special interests that are supposed to be independent of the candidates they benefit. In many of the most vigorously contested elections, more is spent by independent expenditure committees bankrolled by the same special interests that lobby on legislation than is spent by the candidate's official campaign.

As Goldmacher's investigation showed, even for big spenders, it's easier to stop bills than to pass them. For example, the coalition of oil companies, which topped the list of the state's 10 biggest spenders, identified 52 priority bills for their members during the last legislative session. Of those, only three they opposed made it to the governor's desk, and he vetoed two of them.

The No. 3 big spender, the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum or Citizens for Fire Safety, spent a staggering $9.13 million on lobbyists and public-relations firms to defeat a single bill. The measure would have banned the sale of a fire-retardant chemical that some consumer groups say causes cancer. It died in the Senate, buried by dozens of lobbyists and PR consultants who blanketed the Capitol.

One factor at work in all this is that term limits have enhanced the influence of lobbyists. Because of term limits, relatively inexperienced legislators are more dependent than ever on lobbyists who have the expertise and institutional knowledge that lawmakers and their staffs lack.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.

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