A Not-Too-Transparent Look at State Government’s Lobbyist Data

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The California Secretary of State’s office touts its online collection of data about lobbyists as being for the “curious” who want to know who California’s lobbyists are, who hires them and “how much is being spent on lobbying.”

While you can ferret out information on individual lobbyists and the parties that hire them, the website does not provide access to its wealth of information in an online, searchable database via Cal-Access—and doesn’t plan to in the near future, according to the Sacramento Business Journal.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen balked when several newspapers and nonprofit organizations asked her earlier in the year to post the raw data online. She refused, citing technical problems in preparing the information for live, interactive 24/7 access, but finally agreed to make the database available for download.

So if you really want to know “how much is being spent on lobbying” you either have to buy a CD-ROM of the raw database from the state, wait until next Labor Day when, the Secretary of State promises, a copy of the database will be available for download, or rely on the kindness of strangers.

Last week, the Sacramento Bee made available a rudimentary online form for accessing some of the data about lobbying of state government, sufficient to glean a few lists of who did what for who. It’s not perfect. The lobbyist “organizations” can be arranged by “interest group,” of which there are 23. One of the “interest groups” is “REF!,” which is an Excel spreadsheet error code. There are dozens of organizations listed with that designation.

That aside, lobbying expenditures rose 5% to $564 million during the 2011-12 legislative session, according to the Bee, and these were the Top 15 entities that spent the money:




 1. California State Council of Service Employees

Labor unions


 2. Western States Petroleum Association

Oil and gas


 3. California Teachers Association

Labor unions


 4. California Chamber of Commerce



 5. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.



 6. Chevron Corporation (and its subsidiaries)

Oil and gas


 7. California Hospital Association/California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems



 8. California Manufacturers and Technology Association



 9. AT&T Inc. (and its affiliates)



10. City of Vernon



11. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association



12. California School Employees Association

Labor unions


13. League of California Cities



14. California Building Industry Association

Development/Real Estate


15. City of Los Angeles



–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Database: See Who Is Lobbying State Government (by Phillip Reese, Sacramento Bee)

State to Offer Raw Data on Lobbying, Campaign Finance (by Kathy Robertson, Sacramento Business Journal)

Loose Reporting Laws Let Lobbyists Obscure Where the Money Goes (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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