Money & Company

Tracking the market and economic trends
that shape your finances.

« Previous Post | Money & Company Home | Next Post »

$500 million spent on lobbying the Legislature last year

February 21, 2011 |  2:36 pm

Special interest groups with business before the state government spent $538 million on professional lobbyists to influence the passage or defeat of bills during the 2009-10 legislative session.

Though slightly less than the $550 million spent on lobbying in 2007-08, the total was 39% higher than the amount reported for the first two years of the decade.

“Democracy is getting increasingly expensive in California,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of California. He likened spending on lobbying to the Cold War arms race between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

“These costs only are going to continue to spiral higher and higher," said Schnur." You pay a lobbyist a million dollars but you can go home with a $1-billion tax break.”

The lobbyists -- either salaried staffers of the interest groups or independent contractors that work for numerous clients -- also try to affect the writing of regulations by dozens of government agencies, ranging from the California Environmental Protection Agency to the state Department of Insurance.

State and local governments spent the most on lobbying of any special interest group. Other governmental entities that spent millions to lobby government included kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade schools and public universities. Education ranked fifth on the secretary of state’s list.

Rounding out the top five lobbying spenders was the healthcare industry, including hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies, and the manufacturing-industrial category, which includes powerful trade groups and giant industrial corporations such as General Electric Co. and Apple Inc.

Here are the top 19 lobbying categories and their spending in 2009-10 as compiled by the secretary of state. 


1-Government: $89.3 million

2-Miscellaneous**: $79.4 million

3-Health: $61.5 million

4-Manufacturing-Industrial: $50.0 million

5-Education: $37.6 million

6-Finance-Insurance: $33.3 million

7-Labor Unions: $32.8 million

8-Utilities: $32.0 million

9-Professional-Trade: $31.4 million

10-Oil and Gas: $22.3 million

11-Transportation: $13.6 million

12-Real Estate: $11.6 million

13-Entertainment/Recreation: $10.8 million

14-Agriculture: $8.7 million

15-Merchandise-Retail: $8.5 million

16-Legal: $6.5 million

17-Public Employees: $5.9 million

18-Lodging-Restaurants: $2.1 million

19-Political Organizations: $0.4 million


Total: $537.7 million

** Miscellaneous includes hundreds of advocacy groups, professional and trade associations, environmental organizations, Indian tribes, religious groups and uncatalogued businesses.

Source: California secretary of state


Lobbying isn’t the only way that special interest groups try to get their way in Sacramento. They also make political campaign contributions to candidates for the Legislature and statewide offices, such as governor and attorney general. The interests also give to political action committees, industry coalitions, political parties and campaigns for and against initiatives that go before voters on the ballot.

Here’s a ranking of the top 10 campaign contributors for the just-completed legislative session.

Top Interest Groups

Last two years of available data, Oct. 17, 2008 - Oct. 16, 2010.

Construction unions


Attorneys & law firms


State & local government employee unions


Native American tribes & governing units


Police & fire fighters unions and associations




Property & casualty insurance


Pharmaceutical manufacturing




Electrical workers/IBEW



--Marc Lifsher