It's easy to tell when important votes are coming up in the state capitol. The hallways are packed with lobbyists. A new Common Cause report found lobbyists spent $67 million in the first quarter of 2012 alone and if that rate holds up, influence spending in Sacramento could set a record for a 2-year session. "Lobbying employers see this as a good investment for their business plan or else they wouldn't be spending this money," explained Phillip Ung with California Common Cause.
Labor unions and corporations are the biggest spenders trying to sway decision makers. Big money is one thing that could be stalling a popular package of bills called the "Homeowners Bill of Rights," aimed at protecting those facing foreclosure. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment says financial institutions are wielding money to block those proposals with campaign contributions. Common Cause estimates banks and credit unions spent more than $400,000 in the first quarter. "We're saying enough is enough, and we're here to say, 'Stop taking that dirty money from these bankers,'" Rose Gudiel said.
State Senator Mark Desaulnier had a proposal to impose fines on banks for robo-signing documents, but like the others it got pushed to a committee that's potentially political purgatory. "It's very, very frustrating because you know when you take a bill like that, you know that the opponents of it are going to be very well armed up here," he said.
The Institute of Governmental Advocates, the lobbyists' own lobby group, didn't respond to questions related to why so much money is necessary, but two weeks ago, before two consumer foreclosure protection bills were up for a vote, the banking industry said lobbying is a way to educate politicians. "We're making our position known on these two issues, but again, we're not supporting them because we don't feel it's the best interest of homeowners or in the best interest of Californians," said Beth Mills with the California Bankers Association.
The state's current record for spending is $530 million. Common Cause believes California lobbying will reach $540 million by the end of the current session.