County Lobbyists’ Days Numbered?

A fact of life of county government here is that a clique of local lobbyists, some former aides to Supervisors or former Supervisors themselves, makes a good living by serving as hired guns for special interests in order to influence the vote of the Board of Supervisors. According to a story in the Orange County Register, former Assemblyman and State Senator Joe Dunn has plans to put that pattern of influence to rest.

When the Board of Supervisors votes on agenda items the Board is setting public policy. That includes the award of contracts to various firms and non-profits. It is pretty well known in Orange County that a bidder on a contract to be awarded by the Board had best hire a lobbyist, and even if the bid goes through a competitive scoring process and comes out on top that does not necessarily mean a contract will follow.

This is when the local lobbyists are at their best, earning fees, sometimes a percentage of the contract if successful, in peddling influence to the Board members and their staff. The record shows that sometimes the Board indeed awards contracts to other than the highest scoring bidder – and when that happens you can bet a cadre of lobbyists was at work.

How do lobbyists gain such influence? They schmooze the electeds and their staff year around, they attend fund raisers and contribute, they “kiss the ring” of the elected by pandering to their importance, they introduce them to influential and monied people, and they bestow gifts – often couched as “awards”.

The so called county watch dog Shirley Grindle has flailed away for decades to try to limit the influence of lobbyists in the County Hall of Administration with mediocre results. The Board of course resists, citing people’s right to free speech that anyone can come speak to them about their views on an issue, etc.

The Register reports that Dunn will ask the Board of Supervisors to adopt a lobbyist registration and disclosure process to bring sunshine into the smoke filled rooms of the Supervisors, but if the Board does not agree to do that he will turn to an initiative to propose controls to the voters.

Such action to rein in the lobbying cabal in Orange County government is long overdue. Mr. Dunn’s effort is going to be something to watch. He can anticipate withering attacks and opposition, as well as attempts at seduction, from several fronts, especially the lobbyists themselves and some of their monied clients. Let’s hope he has the stamina to withstand it all.

About Over But Not Out

A retired Orange County employee, and moderate Republican. The editor seriously does not know OBNO's identity as did not the former editor, but his point of view is obviously interesting and valued.