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February 11, 2014
Editorial: Party crashers curb backdoor lobbying

wine_bottles.JPG(Feb. 11 - By the Editorial Board)

A 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 FPPC ought to consider a rule limiting 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 Arden Arcade 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 Meg Whitman, then running against Gov. Jerry Brown, who in 1974 was the proponent of the initiative that created the Political Reform Act.

Sloat held two fundraisers in 2012 for 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. PĂ©rez, 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.

He had been a go-to source for gifts, including tickets to the 49ers' 2012 National Football Conference West Division title-clinching game against the Arizona Cardinals for the chief of staff to freshman Assemblyman Jim Frazier, a Democrat, and 2011 tickets to a Kings-Lakers game for Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican.

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.

Sloat didn't need to bend the rules. He knows the Capitol well. His clients are such that he would have no difficulty gaining access to legislators. He represents or has represented Anheuser-Busch, the California Medical Association, Cisco, Anthem Blue Cross, PG&E, the San Francisco 49ers, Verizon and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, owners of the Cache Creek casino.

Not all lobbyists convert their homes into fundraising venues. But evidently, Sloat found a niche. His firm, Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates, was the sixth-biggest billing firm in Sacramento between 2011 and 2013, reporting more than $13.5 million in receipts during those three years.

Now that regulators and reporters have crashed his parties, Sloat promises to abide by the rules. Other lobbyists who provide similar services should take the $133,500 fine as a cautionary tale.