Dan Morain

Dan Morain: Putting for dough as session closes

Lobbyists gather outside Assembly and Senate chambers at the end of the legislative session.
Lobbyists gather outside Assembly and Senate chambers at the end of the legislative session. dmorain@sacbee.com

The last week of a legislative session is always entertaining, and for aficionados, this year’s finale is proving to be true to form.

For the best viewing, settle into the standing-room-only space on the third floor of the Capitol hallway outside the Senate and Assembly chambers. There, dozens of lobbyists crowd together, check their phones, send texts and watch the closed-circuit monitors showing the floor sessions. If they’re quick, and most are, they catch a legislator and make one last argument.

“You drive for show. You putt for dough,” labor lobbyist Scott Wetch said, standing outside the door to the rear entrance of the Assembly chambers. “Now, we’re all putting for dough.”

Wetch was working for a bill carried by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, which would require that individual water meters be installed for each apartment in new buildings. In our drought-stricken state, the notion of having renters monitor and reduce water seems like an excellent idea, though this bill’s fate is far from certain.

Legislators crow about bills that deal with life and death, and climate change, and other existential issues. The vast majority of the hundreds of bills voted on in the last few days are narrow, though the affected interests feel compelled to hire lobbyists, who bill $250 million-plus each year.

Most of that money gets spent in the third quarter of each year, which is when the legislative sessions end. We won’t know this year’s exact amount for another month, because of outdated filing deadlines for lobbying reports. Secretary of State Alex Padilla ought to tee up lobbying disclosure, given his desire to make government more transparent.

Most bills are like Senate Bill 475 by Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, to require companies that operate continuing care retirement communities to make sure that unspent money is quickly refunded to residents who move and heirs of residents who die.

Lobbyist Kevin Pedrotti, representing Erickson Living Management, says residents who move should get immediate refunds, but heirs could wait a few months. His putt came up short. The Assembly approved it, though there’s always the possibility of a veto on the back nine.

Down the hall, Jennifer Fearing, fearlessly representing the Humane Society of the United States, was on guard for the revival of legislation by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, to allow for the importation of kangaroo products.

Fearing is receiving help from Robyn Black and David Quintana, big hitters both. They’re generally rivals, given that Quintana represents Indian tribes, which seek to maintain the monopoly on Vegas-style casinos, and Black’s clients include horse tracks, which have lost market share to casinos.

“I’m not in the habit of working for free,” Black said. But she, like Quintana, called Fearing to volunteer. “If you saw what they do to the baby joeys,” Quintana said, completing the sentence by giving a look of disgust. Horrific, he and Black agreed.

This year, most of the lobbyists gathered to work for and mostly against Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s blockbuster climate bill, SB 350, which sought to cut petroleum use by half.

Around a corner on Tuesday, out of earshot from the crowd, a Chevron lobbyist and Western State Petroleum Association lobbyist huddled with Speaker-elect Anthony Rendon. I’m guessing the conversation wasn’t about their handicaps.

The oil industry spent millions to block the petroleum piece of SB 350. Because of the inadequacy of quarterly lobbyist disclosures, we won’t know how many millions were spent for and against the bill until later this year.

“Leonardo DiCaprio just tweeted support for 350,” Paul Bauer reported at one point. His clients include Sempra, the parent of San Diego Gas & Electric, which supports the bill. “It’s a titanic accomplishment.” Get it? DeCaprio didn’t visit the Capitol like Halle Berry. But he does have 13.4 million followers. That had to be good for something, it was presumed.

In the insiders’ game, though, celebrity tweets don’t mean much compared with oil industry money. By Wednesday afternoon, de León and Gov. Jerry Brown conceded that they didn’t have the votes for the 50 percent petroleum reduction. Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, the legislation Wetch was watching on water meters was not making the cut, either. Earlier, Wetch managed to get an amendment to ensure that workers employed by his building trade union clients likely would get the work of installing the meters.

That annoyed apartment building owners’ lobbyists who worked to sink it. Several business Democrats voted against the bill or ducked the final vote. Evidently, Wetch’s rivals had been working on their short game.