WatchSonoma Watch

Powerful lobbying firms have North Bay connections



From her office window in downtown Sacramento, Bev Hansen can look across L Street to the neoclassic Capitol building, the seat of



government for a state with 38 million residents and the world’s eighth-largest economy.

Hansen, a former Republican assemblywoman from Santa Rosa, left her lawmaker’s seat 21 years ago, but still values her view of who’s coming and going from the building where California’s laws are made.

News reports make that process seem the work of a governor and 120 elected legislators.

RELATED: Lobbying gets results for local agencies

But that’s ignoring the role of a well-financed army of 1,500 registered lobbyists paid by more than 3,700 organizations — including businesses, trade groups and local government agencies — to protect and enhance their interests.

Four of the busiest lobbying firms have North Bay connections. Hansen’s firm stands atop the heap, with $12.8 million in payments during the 2011-12 legislative session.

Overall, about 400 lobbying firms reported more than $345 million in payments. Ninety-one firms received more than $1 million; 126 firms got less than $100,000.

The three biggest spenders on lobbying were the California State Council of Service Employees, Western States Petroleum Association and California Teachers Association, at more than $8 million each.

Winning the money race “doesn’t make me happy,” said Hansen, a co-founder and partner at Lang, Hansen, O’Malley & Miller Governmental Relations. “Our goal is to get results for our clients.”

Any lobbying firm is “always a client or two away” from losing its financial supremacy, she said, and Hansen’s firm has some big-spending clients.

Hollywood Park Racing Association, Citizens for Fire Safety Institute (representing manufacturers of toxic flame retardants) and Altria Client Services (representing the Philip Morris tobacco company) each paid Lang Hansen $600,000 or more, according to lobbying financial disclosure reports to the state.

Wal-Mart and FedEx Corp. each paid the firm about $360,000.

What she’s truly proud of, Hansen said, is her firm’s rating in a 2010 survey of state lawmakers conducted by Capitol Weekly as “best large lobbying firm.”

Her company shared that rating with Capitol Advocacy LLC, a firm started in 1999 by John Latimer, who previously worked as chief of staff to former Assemblywoman Valerie Brown, a Sonoma Valley Democrat who took over Hansen’s Assembly seat in 1992. When Brown was termed out six years later, Latimer ran for her seat but lost the Democratic primary to Pat Wiggins of Santa Rosa.

Latimer switched to lobbying, joining Sonoma resident Darius Anderson at the inception of Platinum Advisors LLC before starting his own firm. Capitol Advocacy was fourth on the money list, with $9.8 million in 2011-12.

Chip Nielsen Jr., a Marin County lawyer, is a senior partner in Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Gross & Leoni LLP, a combination law and lobbying firm that placed third on the lobbying money list, with $11.3 million.

Anderson’s Platinum Advisors was in seventh place, with $8.6 million in payments. Anderson is a principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

Lobbying, a high-stakes game played mostly behind the scenes, depends on knowing the right people and how the lawmaking process works.

“I think we’re well-connected,” Anderson said. “I think we give great advice.”

Anderson, who also owns a real estate development firm, started out more than 20 years ago as an aide to former North Coast Rep. Doug Bosco, who also is a principal investor in Sonoma Media. Anderson’s star began rising in Sacramento during former Gov. Gray Davis’ tenure, cut short by a voter recall in 2003.

But Anderson’s lobbying fortunes continued growing during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, bolstered by Anderson’s close friendship with Susan Kennedy, a Democrat who was the Republican governor’s chief of staff.

Republicans outnumber Democrats on Platinum Advisors’ staff today, including Brian Lungren, brother of former Attorney General Dan Lungren, who lost the 1998 gubernatorial race to Gray Davis.

Platinum Advisors’ major clients include AT&T and Orange County, which paid the firm $535,000 and $528,779, respectively.

Orange County officials credited Platinum with arranging a meeting last summer with Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, leading to legislation that restored $48 million to the county budget, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Hansen’s firm includes two heavyweight Democrats, Bob Giroux, an advisor to John Burton during his tenure as state Senate president pro-tem, and George Miller IV, son of East Bay Rep. George Miller, a confidant of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Sacramento lobbyists come largely from the ranks of legislative staffers, who know the ropes better than many lawmakers, especially since term limits were imposed by voters in 1990.

David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist, said he knew a staffer who “crossed the street” into lobbying and quadrupled his salary.

California’s $93 billion state budget and its nearly $2 trillion economy means there is plenty at stake, he said. Knowing how to kill a bill is as important as getting one passed, McCuan said.

The lobbyist’s chief asset is “knowing the informal byways of the institution,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

8 Responses to “Powerful lobbying firms have North Bay connections”

  1. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    It’s amusing how “The Last Word” this week appears to depict a lobbying scenario of two shady looking lobbyists fishing for a greedy politician to influence.

    They realize that spending millions to save billions is just good business. ~Jack Abramoff
    Words will not be able to ever express how sorry I am for this, and I have profound regret and sorrow for the multitude of mistakes and harm I have caused. ~Jack Abramoff

  2. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    @Jean Anderson – The related story Vinyl Rules mentioned is not biased garbage. Open your eyes and reread the part of this article that says, “Republicans outnumber Democrats on Platinum Advisors’ staff today.” You’re the one spewing bias on this site.

    President Obama is leading America out of the Great Recession that President Bush led us into with two wars; two government defunding tax cuts; a flawed Medicare prescription program; and a huge housing bubble. The only thing President Bush did right was starting the $170 billion economic stimulus package and the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 to bailout the failing banks, per the Austrian School theories on how to avoid another Great Depression.

    P.S. I hope you’re not related to Darius or I could get banned from site.

  3. Dick Tracy says:

    @Jean Anderson

    “Only look to your lying, hypocritical leader Obama to see who benefits from lobbying money and who says one thing and does another.”

    Funny how everything comes down to Obama for you, Ms. Anderson… Why?

  4. Jean Anderson says:

    @Vinyl Rules

    What biased garbage.

    Only look to your lying, hypocritical leader Obama to see who benefits from lobbying money and who says one thing and does another.

    Open your eyes.

  5. Over Easy says:

    One day there will be no more privately paid employees to pay the taxes that pay for the publicly paid employees to pay their union dues so their unions can pay lobbyists to ensure their members get paid more at the expense of the privately paid employees who are paying for all this.

    Even Cannibals don’t eat their young.

  6. Ryan says:

    It is rather sad how much the PD has changed, and not for better. Constantly articles like these, which receive large public commentary in non-favoring opinion, are being pushed aside and republished on the various ‘new blogs’ the PD either sponsors or runs.

    For real community input and feedback, the original PD article can be found here: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20130324/articles/130329722

  7. The Answer says:

    If you want to see the face of evil, look not further than your friendly lobbyist doing the work of those who mean you no good.

  8. Vinyl Rules says:

    Crazy to think that only 20 years ago Santa Rosa had a Republican Assemblymember. Good riddance! Another interesting story related to this was on Politico. Essentially, lobbying firms in Washington DC tend to be dominated by Republicans. It’s as if Dems don’t wanna be corporate schills…