Among the more than 1,200 lobbyists who do business in the state Capitol are a few dozen who know the lawmaking process from the inside: former legislators who now earn a living trying to influence their former colleagues.
State law prevents lawmakers from lobbying the Legislature within a year of leaving office. But even with that "cooling off" period, lawmakers-turned-lobbyists enjoy relationships with legislators that most other advocates will never develop.
"It's a relational world in politics, as it is in most of life," said Rick Keene, a lobbyist who represented the Chico area in the state Assembly from 2002 to 2008.
"People call me up because they know I've been in government before and they think, 'Hey, maybe you can help us get this problem solved.' "
That leg-up draws private grumbling from those in the lobby corps who never served in the Senate or Assembly. There's even more resentment of lawmakers who become "consultants" rather than lobbyists, a status that limits their contact with lawmakers but relieves them of disclosure requirements.
One day in the Capitol last week, Keene a registered lobbyist held a closed-door meeting with a client in the health care industry and Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda.
Upstairs, on the fourth floor, lobbyist Bev Hansen worked the hallway outside a hearing room where several bills she was monitoring were up for discussion. Hansen, who represented the Sonoma area in the Assembly from 1986 to 1992, is now a partner at Lang Hansen O'Malley Miller one of Sacramento's highest-earning lobby firms.
She held a quick tête-à-tête with Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, as he passed through the hall. She hugged Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, as he left the hearing room. She reached a hand out to grab the attention of Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar. She shared a laugh with Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and her business partner George Miller, who is the son of the congressman by the same name.
"Unless somebody is new," Hansen said, "I know just about everybody. And that's a good thing."
Government watchdogs aren't so sure.
They say the public's interest can be compromised when elected officials walk through the so-called "revolving door" to become private-sector lobbyists or consultants.
"Both at state and federal level, these are people who develop special skill sets, expertise and a thick Rolodex of contacts they can turn to after they're done serving the public," said Michael Beckel, a spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.
"If they go through the revolving door, they can be rewarded substantially by interest groups who would like to maximize that knowledge and those connections," he added.
One example at play in California's Capitol is the debate over online gambling. Former lawmakers Willie Brown and Lloyd Levine are both consulting with organizations that stand to make plenty of money if the Legislature approves an Internet gambling bill. Brown works for the Morongo Indian tribe, while Levine advises technology firms.
"One service we offer to European companies is insight into U.S. politics, mostly through my contacts and my expertise," said Levine, an ex-assemblyman.
Gambling opponents say gambling interests have an unfair advantage because they can pay for consultants who have those relationships.
"When one of these legislators returns as a lobbyist or a supporter, I think they have an influence that others may not," said James Butler, a Methodist pastor who heads the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.
Policy key focus for some
Lawmakers who become advocates acknowledge that their experience under the dome helps them attract clients. But in an era of term limits, they say, they have to get to know new lawmakers just like lobbyists who never served in office. Many say lobbying is a continuation of the career they chose in policymaking not a switch that should concern the public.
"I'm sure there are people who have taken advantage of their previous roles, but there are lots of people who have taken their knowledge and, when they leave the building, added value to the product that comes out of the Legislature," said Dion Aroner, who represented the Berkeley area in the Assembly from 1996 to 2002 and was chief of staff to the district's representative for 25 years before that.
Aroner focuses her work as a lobbyist on the same issues she prioritized as a lawmaker health and human services. She said her expertise is just as valuable as her personal relationships with politicians.
"The reason clients hire me is first and foremost because of my institutional memory. I influenced almost everything they're working on, whether I touched it as a legislator or a staffer," Aroner said.
Lobbyist Tricia Hunter also says her work now is closely tied to her focus as a lawmaker. Hunter, who represented the San Diego area in the Assembly, said she was a nurse and health care advocate before she ran for office, continuing that emphasis since leaving office in 1992.
"It was a natural transition for me to go into lobbying," Hunter said. "I'd already been doing it for years."
Total numbers uncertain
It's hard to say exactly how many former lawmakers seek to influence the Legislature because there is no formal accounting of those who make the switch. A list The Bee compiled included about 50 former legislators among Sacramento's advocates. About half are registered lobbyists and half are consultants who advise clients on navigating government but don't register with the state as lobbyists.
Firms that employ former lawmakers are not shy about touting their connections to the Capitol. Two former state senators Joe Dunn and Martha Escutia started a company together after leaving office in 2006. They named it The Senators (Ret.) Firm.
Mercury Public Affairs includes former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez among its partners. The company website says "his influence as a national political figure is of tremendous value to Mercury clients."
The California Strategies public affairs firm devotes a full page of its website to listing the many political offices its employees previously held.
"Our decades of public and private sector involvement and strong working relationships with key decision makers at all levels of government translate into the trust and expertise to seek your desired results," it says.
Three former legislators Rusty Areias, Jim Brulte and Jim Cunneen work for California Strategies, which was founded by former Gov. Pete Wilson's chief of staff, Bob White.
But none of them are registered with the state as lobbyists. Instead, they are consultants who work behind the scenes. Consultants are limited in how much direct contact they can have with government officials concerning specific bills. But unlike registered lobbyists, they don't have to report who their clients are, how much they're being paid or what issues they're lobbying. They can also give bigger gifts.
The phenomenon has proliferated in recent years, said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. Some of the Legislature's most powerful figures including former Assembly speakers Núñez and Brown are consulting on political matters, but are not registered lobbyists.
"What we're seeing are a lot of people in Sacramento who are influencing legislation indirectly. They're not breaking the law, but they're influencing legislators through other people," Stern said.
"So we're seeing a real undercount of how much money is being spent to influence the Legislature."