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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Urinals, Casinos, and Lobbyists

What do waterless urinals and casinos have in common? They both illustrate the role of lobbyists.

The Los Angeles Times reports on lobbyist Scott Wetch, who fought a change in the state building code to accommodate waterless urinals, which could save California billions of gallons of water each year.
Wetch is a Sacramento lobbyist for labor unions, and urinals without water pipes would not be good for his clients in the building trades. His campaign to derail the bill shows why he is considered one of the shrewdest operators in the Capitol.
First he played the health card, arguing that mens' rooms would become breweries for pestilence and toxic vapors.
Then he took a more direct approach, reminding Democratic lawmakers that the bill threatened a key constituency — labor — and specifically his client, the California State Pipe Trades Council and its 30,000 plumbers and pipe fitters.
Finally, he splintered his opponents by crafting a compromise designed to appease environmentalists. The revised bill, signed into law in 2007, allowed developers to install waterless urinals. But they would still have to install the pipes, just in case something went wrong.
"It's absurd," said Kevin Dayton, an executive at the Associated Builders and Contractors of California. "Obviously, waterless urinals are a threat to plumbers getting jobs, and, therefore, he worked to make sure the jobs would continue even as the technology changed."
Wetch doesn't really argue the point.
"I do whatever I can," he said, "to give a competitive advantage to unionized employees."
The New York Times reports on KT Lim, a Malaysian billionaire who leads a company called Genting Berhad:
Because casino gambling is highly regulated, the industry has long drawn swarms of lobbyists promising to help navigate state capitols. Casino gambling is banned in New York, with the exception of casinos on Indian land and electronic slot machines at nine racetracks. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed legalizing the industry, though such a move would require action by the Legislature and a referendum.
lobbyists in New York, according to state lobbying records, include Patricia Lynch, a former top aide to the Democratic Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and Nicholas A. Spano, a former Republican state senator.
The company has also hired Jennifer Cunningham, a close friend of Mr. Cuomo’s, to do public relations work and Bradley Tusk, who was Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s campaign manager in 2009, to assist with planning.
Genting even created an advocacy group called the New York Gaming Association, which is led by another prominent lobbyist, James Featherstonhaugh.
...Stefan Friedman of SKD Knickerbocker, Ms. Cunningham’s consulting firm, said: “We have a proactive agenda that includes building a $4 billion convention center and legalizing table gaming in New York, both of which will create tens of thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic revenue. We think those issues are important, and we know nothing comes without a lot of hard work.”