Backdoor lobbying practice cracked open last week when the Fair Political Practices Commission recommended that one of Sacramento's highest-billing lobbying firms pay a $133,500 fine.
It's about time.
California's Political Reform Act makes clear that lobbyists cannot give campaign contributions to state politicians or candidates for state office. Nor can they arrange for their clients to deliver gifts to officeholders.The Legislature should go further by explicitly banning lobbyists from hosting fundraisers.
As The Sacramento Bee's Laurel Rosenhall wrote, based on her reporting and a new FPPC enforcement action, the lobbying firm headed by Kevin Sloat regularly evaded these restrictions by hosting high-end fundraisers at his home, and arranged for lawmakers to receive hard-to-get tickets to sporting events and other sweet gifts.
The law allows for lobbyists and legislators to get together. Many legislators and lobbyists are former Capitol staffers who have long-standing relationships. It would be unrealistic and unfair to require them to disclose every time they share a backyard beer.
Sloat was not being neighborly.
On one day, June 29, 2010, he held fundraisers for two Democrats — Sen. Lou Correa and then-Sen. Gloria Negrete-McLeod, who now is in Congress — and Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.
Sloat held two fundraisers in 2012 for Gov. Jerry Brown and Proposition 30, the tax hike ballot measure he was advocating. On other days, he gave his house over to fundraisers for Speaker John A. Pérez, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff and Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway.
Sloat would give out fancy cigars, wine, booze and food, without disclosing the gifts as non-monetary campaign donations.
Contributions are a political reality. Another reality is that interest groups seek to influence politicians by giving them gifts. But voters have made clear that they don't want lobbyists involved in either practice.
The rules aren't complicated, but evidently Sloat found a niche. His Sacramento firm, Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates, reported more than $13.5 million in receipts from 2011 through 2013.
Sloat now promises to abide by the rules. Other lobbyists who provide similar services should take the $133,500 fine as a cautionary tale.
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