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$36 Million Buys Clout in the Capitol : Lobbies Set 6-Month Spending Record; For Some, It's a Bargain

October 21, 1985|PAUL JACOBS and JERRY GILLAM | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — A record $36 million was spent on lobbying the Legislature during the first half of 1985, and for many interest groups, it was a bargain.

The Assn. of California Insurance Cos., for instance, paid out more than $280,000 in a successful campaign for passage of a mandatory seat belt law, which eventually will require auto makers to install automatic crash protection equipment, such as air bags, in every car sold in the state.

Californians will have to begin buckling up on Jan. 1--a requirement expected to save 1,000 lives each year and reduce expenses for automobile insurers.

Spending to influence legislation has risen so much in recent years that some consumer and public interest groups fear that they are being priced out of the lobbying market.

Yet the big spenders do not always get what they are asking for.

For example, the Irvine Co., Orange County's largest private landowner with huge investments in shopping centers and other businesses, spent $340,419 on lobbying during the first six months of the year. That made it the sixth largest on the list of big spenders, according to figures released last week by the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state's watchdog agency on political financing.

Deep Pocket Defeat

The Irvine Co.--along with the insurance group and several other organizations--suffered a big defeat, however, on the so-called deep pockets issue.

One of the most heavily contested measures before lawmakers this year, the deep pockets bill would have changed liability laws that allow large injury case judgments against big companies and private agencies, even if they are only marginally at fault.

The California Trial Lawyers Assn., which spent nearly $184,000 on lobbying in six months, ended up on the winning side of the deep pockets fight. Trial lawyers generally collect between a third and a quarter of judgments in injury cases and would have received reduced fees if liability had been limited.

This year's lobbying spending spree also was boosted by rival interest groups fighting over the state's unitary tax system for calculating the amount owed the state by multinational corporations that do business in California. One version of the proposal to change the unitary tax would have provided a $250-million tax break to some of the world's largest business firms.

The fight over the unitary tax, which will continue to be played out during next year's legislative session, saw substantial lobbyist spending by Shell Oil Co. ($97,403), TRW Inc. ($46,600), Sony Co. ($38,000), Crocker Bank ($22,983), Coca Cola ($22,960) and IBM ($13,195).

Many of the lobbyists and the groups that employ them are reluctant to crow about their successes or advertise their defeats.

No 'Gloating'

"We don't want to come off as gloating," said an official from Pacific Bell.

Pacific Telesis Group, a holding company that encompasses Pacific Bell, Pac Tel Communications, Pac Tel Mobile Access, Pac Tel Publishing, Nevada Bell and Pacific Telesis International, was second on the Fair Political Practices Commission list, with reported spending of nearly $2 million in lobbying between January and June. Most was spent on arguing the case for two large rate increases before the state Public Utilities Commission. The company spent, however, $231,000 on lobbying legislators.

This was almost as much as the total spent ($262,000) by all the self-described public-interest groups, such as Common Cause and the Consumers Union.

Another utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., was by far the biggest spender, with a reported $5.2 million-plus. The company said that 97% of this went for its rate hearings before the utilities commission.

The company spent only $114,500 to lobby lawmakers, said the company's spokesman, Clyde E. Walthall.

The top-earning lobbying firm for the first half of 1985 was A-K Associates, which collected $534,010 in fees. The firm's six lobbyists serve about 30 clients.

They include ambulance associations, pathologists, the Tobacco Institute, California Dental Service and Scientific Games, a major state lottery supplier. "We represent all our clients in the same way, whether it be for a high fee or a low fee," Thomas S. Konovaloff, an A-K partner, said.

No Press Contact

Advocation Inc. earned $488,665 to rank as the No. 2 lobbying firm, on the basis of fees received. The firm represents a large number of influential clients, including the Irvine Co., 7-Eleven Stores, the plastic pipe industry, powerful Central Valley growers and Pearle Health Services Inc., which wants to open its franchise eyeglass outlets in California.

"I don't talk to the press. I have never talked to the press in this town," Advocation owner Donald K. BrOwn said. "I am prevented by contract from talking to the press."

Some lobbyists emphasized their successes.

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