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Legislative Lobbyists Find September Is the Cruelest Month

September 09, 1987|LEO C. WOLINSKY and JERRY GILLAM | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — The mercury was edging into the 100s as James D. Garibaldi, the 81-year-old dean of Sacramento's resolute corps of lobbyists, set out across the Capitol lawn for an appointment that most of his colleagues could only dream about.

A former legislator and Superior Court judge, best known around Sacramento as "the judge," Garibaldi represents the liquor industry, horse racing interests, big outdoor advertisers and other influential clients. And he was on his way to see the powerful Assembly Speaker, Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), at the Speaker's invitation.

With only a few days left in the Legislature's 1987 session, invitations like this are at a premium for a lobbyist trying to maintain or build a reputation for clients.

Pausing briefly in the hot sun, the husky, easygoing Garibaldi told a reporter that there were only "five or six bills" about which he had any concerns. Asked which one he considered the most important, the veteran lobbyist flashed a broad grin and observed, "Every bill is a major bill in my business."

Not every lobbyist enjoys Garibaldi's entree to the seats of legislative power. For the vast majority of others, with fewer personal ties to the Legislature's Democratic leadership and with clients who are less influential, the waning days of a session can be filled with closed doors and frustrations.

"We call every day to try to see the Speaker and the (Senate) President Pro Tem (David A. Roberti, a Los Angeles Democrat) but are told they are busy," complained Steve C. Barrow of California Common Cause, a citizen activist group that lobbies on behalf of good government and consumer bills.

"Major lobbyists represent big interests who contribute to campaigns, so legislators are forced to listen to them and not us."

With the session due to end at midnight Friday, it is crunch time for these and hundreds of other lobbyists and for their clients' bills.

The drama is played out hourly, and the scene often borders on chaos.

As the Senate and Assembly hold all-day floor sessions, lobbyists gather outside the chambers listening intently to the action inside, broadcast over a speaker system affectionately known as the "squawk box."

Behind the Railing

The men, impeccably attired in business suits and wearing their most sincere smiles, and the women, many dressed as if on their way to a fancy dinner, gather five or six deep outside a wooden railing meant to keep them at bay while crucial votes are cast.

With the margin between victory and defeat sometimes as narrow as a single vote, the lobbyists hastily scrawl messages on the backs of business cards and hand them to sergeants-at-arms who summon members outside for last-minute instructions, advice or pleadings on how to vote--or not to vote.

As they nervously wait, cigarettes are snuffed out on the mosaic tile floor and replaced with breath mints for whispered conversations.

These are difficult days for most lobbyists.

Although many are highly paid, and during much of the year visibly under-worked, it is a nerve-racking time as more than 500 Assembly bills and 300 Senate measures await action in both houses.

Still to be decided before the end of this week are major issues ranging from revision of state income tax laws to reform of insurance practices.

There also are dozens of lesser known and little understood measures aimed at giving one industry a competitive edge over another or perhaps clearing the way for a big money-making venture.

The number of important issues is far outpaced, however, by the number of lobbyists. There are 762 lobbyists operating in Sacramento, competing for the attention of 120 members of the Senate and Assembly. They represent 1,318 clients, almost double the number of firms that hired lobbyists 10 years ago.

Given the odds, lobbyists are always looking for ways to get the jump on their competitors.

Despite attending fund-raisers late into the evening nearly every night, Dennis E. Carpenter, a former Republican state senator and now a top lobbyist, begins work at 6:30 a.m., putting in telephone calls and dictating letters.

"Every year I resolve to make sure that all of my important bills get done early and don't get caught in the logjam, but that seems to be impossible to do," said Carpenter, whose lobbying firm grossed nearly $1 million last year.

The best way to survive during the final days, Carpenter said, is to remind yourself that "it's a finite life. You can always look forward to the end of (the) week and the end of the session."

Carpenter is looking forward to a fly-fishing trip to New England after the final gavel falls. In contrast, Common Cause lobbyist Barrow will get little rest, leaving immediately for a three-day staff conference in Washington.

The ritual and pressure of the final weeks become tiresome to some lawmakers. And lobbyists stand a chance of drawing their ire rather than their attention.

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