Sacramento, CA

A look at lobbying expenditures in Sacramento reveals how the pandemic has re-shaped Golden State politics

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By Ian Firstenberg

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) An exclusive analysis of lobbying in Sacramento by Bay Area News Group (BANG) revealed how COVID-19 has drastically reshaped California politics.

For one such example, the California Teachers Association (CTA) spent $2.85 million during the first quarter of 2021, more than double the amount the second leading lobbyist, two representatives of Big Oil, spent.

This outsized number is clearly offset by the outsized role that teachers play in one of the most critical and divisive issues throughout the pandemic: schooling. Since the onset of pandemic-related health restrictions, the most common and frequent questions have centered around schooling and education. Rightfully so, in many senses as the education of younger children, especially elementary school kids, serves as a critical barometer of the state's overall prosperity.

Beyond just that, it's been shown that in-person learning is critical for childhood development.

Those factors, combined with the stress put on teachers by parents and administrators surrounding reopening, could account for the large expenditure number from the CTA. Contextualizing CTA's spending helps to further elucidate the nature of politics in Sacramento.

CTA has often been among the top lobbying groups in Sacramento. Since 2017, it spent roughly $18 million, only exceeded by Western Petroleum and Chevron which spent $30 million and $27 million. Beyond just this year, CTA was the highest spending lobbying group in the second quarter of last year, as the pandemic restrictions began to set in.

While the expenditure numbers from CTA represent a portion of COVID-19 related spending, it's not to say that the union hasn't consistently been in a similar position.

A slightly more intriguing analysis lies in the second and third highest spenders in Sacramento: energy companies.

According to the BANG analysis, 2020 saw a massive lobbying effort from Reynolds American, the North Carolina-based tobacco company, which spent roughly $8.7 million in Sacramento that year. In August of 2020, Newsom signed a bill into law that banned the sale of flavored tobacco.

The next highest spenders in 2020 according to the BANG analysis were Western States Petroleum Association and Chevron at $4.3 million and $4 million, respectively.

According to its website, Western States Petroleum is a non-profit trade organization that represents a variety of oil and gas companies on the West Coast.

According to filings with the Secretary of State's office about 2021 lobbying information, Alcantar Law Group represents a number of energy subsidiaries and companies, including Western States Petroleum and the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA). CIPA pushed back against Newsom's proposed energy oversight in the summer of 2020, asking the governor to roll back the restrictions on oil drilling that he supported.

Alcantar Law Group also lobbies for the PBF Holding Company, the California Resources Corporation and Subsidiaries and the Midway Sunset Cogeneration Company. Together, those three companies make up the majority of natural gas and oil production in the Golden State.

As an aside a Michael Edward Alcantar was appealed a conviction in 2013 stemming from his "participation in an attempt to purchase cocaine that culminated in the firebombing of a residence." It's unclear if Michael E. Alcantar has any relation to the chief lobbyist for the Alcantar Group Michael P. Alcantar.

CIPA's political action committee, based out of Sacramento, spent just over $40,000 in the 2016 election cycle, with roughly three-quarters of that money going to California Republicans like Tom McClintock and Ken Calvert, according to filings found on Open Secrets.

Notably, CIPA's PAC spent the most money that election cycle, $5,798, on a California Democrat, Isadore Hall.

These expenditures seemed dwarfed by the large overall numbers that lobbying groups pour into Sacramento each year but the sums can be misleading. The large sums are often spread throughout the political landscape of a state to provide companies with the best chance for political success.

According to Open Secrets, a non-profit that studies political contributions, Chevron spent nearly $9 million lobbying representatives in Washington in 2020. Roughly half of that being spent in California.

Despite what Gov. Newsom says about supporting clean energy or a possible Green New Deal, it is abundantly clear that classic oil and gas companies maintain a firm grip of politics in the Golden State.

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