Though it brands itself as “the people’s house,” the California State Capitol will soon become less accessible to the public, while continuing to provide lobbyists with “special access.”
Beginning February 1, the California state Legislature intends to convert its east entrance from public to “employee and lobbyist only,” according to an internal security memo from the Joint Rules Committee obtained by CalWatchdog.com.
“The East door to the Capitol will be designated an ’employee and lobbyist only (with ID)’entrance,” the January 14 memo from the Joint Rules Committee states. “Entry into the Capitol from the North and South doors will still be available, however, only the East door will provide an expedited entry.”
That means average citizens lobbying the state Legislature will be forced to wait in longer lines, while lobbyists are sped through the queue.
Debra Gravert, chief administrative officer of the Joint Rules Committee, confirmed the memo and policy change, saying it’s part of enhanced security measures.
“That door poses a huge security risk to the building,” she said. “Our only alternative was to close that door altogether.”
If security was the primary concern, why allow lobbyists special access to the entrance?Many posts have discussed "shadow lobbying" at the federal level. AP reports that it happens in California government, too.
“They’re given special access to jump the line now,” Gravert told CalWatchdog.com. “The only lobbyists that can go through, have ID.”
Now, top state ethics officials have agreed that weak laws allow oil companies, labor groups and other special interests to conceal how they spend much of their money trying to influence state government and that the amount of lobbying in the shadows is growing at an alarming rate.
In a report to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, attorneys for the panel are proposing sweeping new requirements aimed at shedding light on how lobbying firms are spending tens of millions of dollars annually in Sacramento.
"Without additional disclosure, the public cannot determine how interest groups spend money to influence state legislation and agency action," wrote general counsel Hyla Wagner and senior council Emelyn Rodriguez.
Currently, companies that hire lobbyists must report the amount they pay the advocates, but other spending to influence government officials can be lumped together under a category, "other payments to influence," without any explanation.
Those other payments could include money spent to hire former politicians not registered as lobbyists to influence decisions behind the scenes, payments to nonprofit groups to advocate a position, and cash spent on television, radio and newspaper ads to pressure Lawmakers on a particular bill.