Capitol Alert

Want to influence the Legislature in the final weeks? A billboard might help

A screen shot from an online ad urging opposition to AB 1606, the bill that would ratify the state’s compact with Wilton Rancheria, which plans to build an Elk Grove casino.
A screen shot from an online ad urging opposition to AB 1606, the bill that would ratify the state’s compact with Wilton Rancheria, which plans to build an Elk Grove casino.

Since the California Legislature returned from its summer recess, the web-surfing experience has taken on a political flavor.

“Create a new water supply that can serve up to 400,000 people a year – Stop AB 1000,” read a splashy online ad Tuesday by opponents of legislation that would require additional environmental review of the massive Cadiz Inc. water project in Southern California . “Close the housing affordability gap – support prevailing wage,” admonished a page-dominating web ad by unions that want any affordable housing package to increase construction workers’ paychecks.

Offline, a trunk-mounted electronic billboard parked on L Street across from the Capitol the past few days shows lawmakers’ Twitter handles and urges them to oppose Assembly Bill 1701, which would make contractors responsible for subcontractors’ failure to pay wages. “Don’t make housing more expensive,” it says.

The final weeks of the 2017 legislative session flood the Capitol with lobbyists. But special interests also are pressing their case through other types of advocacy, such as online ads, mobile billboards, PR campaigns, and activities covered by “other payments to influence.”

Such expenses used to be a mystery, with lobbyist employers’ quarterly disclosures listing them as a lump sum that included everything from office rent to radio ads. Under rules that took effect last year, lobbyist employers must detail who else they paid to advocate their case.

Other payments to influence at the end of session won’t become public until the next disclosure filing deadline in October. But filings for the first six months of the year show a mix of public relations shops, advertising companies, web-targeting firms, and hundreds of other payees receiving more than $49 million.

For example, oil companies reported spending almost $9 million on TV advertising by Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy, an industry-backed group involved in the Capitol debate over extending the state’s cap-and-trade program.

The League of California Cities and kidney dialysis center company DaVita were among several lobbyist employers that reported $442,000 in payments to Sacramento firm Bicker Castillo and Fairbanks Public Affairs. It was part of the city-backed push to pass an April transportation funding package, as well as the ongoing effort to defeat SB 349, a dialysis center staffing bill opposed by DaVita.

And the California Nurses Association, which pushed lawmakers this year to support legislation creating government-funded universal healthcare, was among several groups that reported paying a total of $12,000 to Facebook for advertising.

Welcome to the AM Alert, your morning rundown on California policy and politics. To receive it regularly, please sign up here.

WORTH REPEATING: “I have not made any decision on that.” – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on possibly running for governor next year

SAFETY FIRST: The public comment period ends today for the proposed Proposition 57 regulations, which aim to expand the early release credits inmates can receive to reduce their sentences, get more inmates paroled more quickly over time, and lower the California prison population before it hits a state-mandated cap. Since voters approved the initiative last November, law enforcement has continued to raise concerns that it will allow dangerous criminals out onto the street. But supporters argue the rules actually don’t go far enough. Advocates from Californians for Safety and Justice and other organizations that campaigned for Proposition 57 will be at a public hearing, 9 a.m. at the Department of Water Resources building on 9th Street, to urge the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to allow the law to apply retroactively, among other changes.

BY THE NUMBERS: The semiannual culling of bills known as the suspense file is back! For any measure with a significant price tag to make it to a floor vote, they'll first have to survive this judgment day by the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees. Members discussed in secret which proposals should advance and will announce their fates when the committees meet after session this morning. Just two weeks from the end of session, Senate bills are in the Assembly and vice versa. The Senate has 335 bills on suspense and the Assembly has 137.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Sacramento native Alex Honnold made history in June when he became the first person to ascend Yosemite National Park's 3,000-foot El Capitan without ropes or gear. For his achievement, the renowned free solo climber will now be recognized by the California Legislature. Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills, will present Honnold with a resolution on the Senate floor during session this morning.

FAREWELL: After 23 years on the state's highest court, California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Werdegar retired yesterday. An appointee of former Gov. Pete Wilson, she was the longest-serving member of the court. Her retirement gives Gov. Jerry Brown a chance to decisively mold the seven-member panel. He has already appointed three other justices since returning to the governorship in 2011.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who turns 48 tomorrow, and to Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, who will be 53 on Monday.