Three well-connected partners in the prominent California Strategies public affairs firm have agreed to pay fines to California's political watchdog agency for trying to influence state government decisions without registering as lobbyists.
Jason Kinney, Rusty Areias and Winston Hickox violated state law when they "crossed over the line which separates policy consultants from lobbyists," says a proposed settlement the Fair Political Practices Commission released today.
It's just the second time in recent history that the FPPC has prosecuted anyone for failing to register as a lobbyist, the settlement says. But it reveals a practice many Sacramento lobbyists say has become pervasive at the Capitol: "shadow lobbying" by former politicians and high-level staff members who leave government to consult for private industry without disclosing themselves as lobbyists.
California Strategies released a statement saying the business "has already put stronger internal reporting controls in place."
"The firm takes full responsibility for this matter and all of our principals are committed
to ensuring it never happens again," said a prepared statement emailed by managing partner Camden S. McEfee.
The settlement follows an investigation by The Bee earlier this year that documented a severe lack of detail in California's lobbying reports. Interest groups that spend the most money to influence policy in the Capitol spend the bulk of it in secret, The Bee found, including hiring former politicians as consultants and launching ad campaigns to push their agenda with virtually no financial disclosure.
Areias was a state legislator for 12 years who then headed the state Parks Department; Hickox was an adviser during Gov. Jerry Brown's prior administration and secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Gov. Gray Davis; Kinney was communications director for Senate leader Don Perata, then Davis' speechwriter and is now a political consultant to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
In settling with the FPPC, the three acknowledge that over the last two years they lobbied the Legislature and Air Resources Board without publicly reporting their clients and income, as state law requires of lobbyists.
"This activity violates one of the (Political Reform) Act's central purposes - the activities of lobbyists should be regulated and their finances disclosed in order that improper influences will not be directed at public officials," the FPPC settlement says.
"The public harm inherent in these violations is that the public is deprived of important and timely information... such as the identity of the person ultimately seeking to influence legislative or administrative action and the amount of money expended by that person to influence such action."
Kinney, Areias and Hickox will register as lobbyists and pay a combined fine of $40,500, according to the proposed settlement, which is scheduled for a vote by the Commission on Sept. 19.