Oil industry doubled spending on lobbying in California last year

Sacramento Bee, February 4, 2015 →

The oil industry nearly doubled its spending on lobbying in California last year, as the Jan. 1, 2015 date approached for gasoline to be included in the state’s cap-and-trade program.

The Western States Petroleum Association poured nearly $8.9 million into lobbying California government in 2014, according to new filings with the secretary of state. That compares with almost $4.7 million the group spent on the effort in 2013.

The oil industry’s increase in spending was part of a larger trend in 2014 that saw interest groups spend more on lobbying in California than ever before. Overall, spending on lobbying was up 4 percent, with interest groups pouring a combined $293.7 million into lobbying state government.

The oil association’s spending helped keep Sacramento’s KP Public Affairs as the top-earning lobbying firm in the state. Lobbying reports show that the group treated several legislators to meals in Maui and Napa at the end of last year. Shortly after the November elections, the petroleum association took three lawmakers to dinner at Spago in Maui: Senate GOP leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen of Modesto, and Democratic Assemblyman Henry Perea of Fresno, who heads an informal caucus of business-friendly Democrats and led an industry-backed effort last year to postpone adding fuels to the cap-and-trade plan. In December, the association took newly elected Democratic Assemblymen Jim Cooper of Elk Grove and Bill Dodd of Napa to lunch at Hotel Yountville in Napa.

Yet the vast majority of the petroleum association’s spending on lobbying last year – about $7.2 million – was reported under a catch-all “other” category that requires no detailed disclosure showing who benefited or how the money was spent. Californians were subject to numerous publicity campaigns last year opposing climate change policies and proposals for an oil-extraction tax, but the the lobbying reports do not illuminate who paid for them or who received the money because the state allows such activity to escape disclosure by being reported as “other payments to influence.”

Here’s a look at spending by the Western States Petroleum Association over the last decade. Hover over the charts to see more detail:

Energy businesses, unions and health care companies dominated the interest groups that spent big on lobbying California government last year. These are the 20 groups that spent the most:

Here’s a look at lobbying spending since 2005.

Several Sacramento lobbying firms saw their fortunes rise in 2014:

▪ Mercury Public Affairs, which includes former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez as a partner, reported bringing in $3.2 million, a nearly 50 percent increase in business from the prior year. Núñez is a childhood friend of Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who took the leadership post in October.

▪ California Strategies and Advocacy reported billing $3.6 million in 2014, an increase of 48 percent from the year before. In 2013, the firm registered three of its partners as lobbyists after they paid a fine to the state’s political ethics watchdog for lobbying without disclosing their activity.

▪ Gonzalez Quintana & Hunter reported bringing in almost $3.1 million in 2014, an increase of 32 percent. The firm picked up several new clients last year including Sacramento County and the Sacramento Republic FC soccer team.

Other firms saw a decrease in reported business:

▪ Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates reported billing $3.7 million in 2014, a drop of roughly 23 percent from the year before. The firm and its founder, Kevin Sloat, paid a $133,500 fine early last year for hosting lavish fundraisers for politicians that amounted to prohibited campaign contributions. It then lost one of its most high-profile clients, the San Francisco 49ers.

▪ Greenberg Traurig reported billing $2.5 million for lobbying, a drop of almost 15 percent. The firm added former Senate leader Darrell Steinberg to its legal team at the end of last year.

This chart shows the 20 California lobbying firms that billed the most last year:

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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