Friday, June 13, 2008

Boyarsky Says Lobbyists Have The Real Power

Writtern from Boston, Mass. --

Probably the most significant observation in the L.A. Times yesterday was a one-paragraph report of what former Times metro editor Bill Boyarsky had to say about the power of lobbyists. Boyarsky has been serving during his retireent on the City Ethics Commission and therefore has had a bird's eye view of government from another perspective.

The Times yesterday devoted reams of copy to a worthless story about Hollywood celebrities going bankrupt, another esample of what I call Hiller Horseshit. The Chicago toady who is publisher of the Times, David Hiller, is pie-eyed crazy when it comes to celebrities and is gradually turning the Times into something more readily resembling the National Enquirer.

So it comea as no surprise that when a former metro editor and ethics commissioners says he has concluded that lobbyists are far more a power than the ethics commission this is given short shrift in the newspaper.

But that doesn't mean it's not important, or that it doesn't jibe with my own observations from more than three decades of covering government.

First, the Times complete report on what Boyarsky had to say, under the mini-headline, "Fingering the real powers at City Hall:

"It was Bill Boyarsky's last day on the Los Angles City Ethics Commission, the five-member panel that punishes those who violate L.A. laws that govern elections, lobbying and campaign contributions. The former L.A. Times city editor tells reporter David Zahniser that the Ethics Commssion "is on the periphery of power" at City Hall. "Power is with the business lobbyists, the union lobbyists, the people who run the campaigns," he said."

This would certainly be worth a longer story. Maybe Zahniser will write one, and maybe it will actually get into the paper.

As I say, Boyarsky's views jibe with my own observations, especially when I was covering the insurers and trial lawyers on the state and national level. It turned out these groups were far more influential that the Legislature or Congress in actually determining what happened in regulation of their critical fields, which have so much sway as life is lived in our society.

When the voters approved Proposition 103, the Harvey Rosenfield insurance initiative in California, over four other insurer and trial lawyer initiatives, I was under the naive assumption that this would actually alter the state's legal and insurance systems broadly. The Times set about covering subsequent regulatory and legislative proceedings as if it would, But we discovered after awhile that it wouldn't.

What I found I was covering, instead, was the slow overwhelming of the government entities by the well paid lobbyists for both groups. They made chop liver of the reform initiative, largely because they virtually owned the legislators and regulators charged with implementing it.

At one time, I discovered the insurers had made contributions, often massive ones, to all but four of the 80 members of the state Assembly and 40 members of the State Senate. On the other hand, it turned out that Roxane Gillespie, the state insurance commissioner at the time, played a deceptive game in which she pretended to be enforcing the initiative while in fact being its major obfuscator.

Both the chairman of the Senate insurance committee, Alan Robbins, and the chief lobbyist for insurers in the state, Clay Jackson, went to jail while I was covering insurance for taking or offering bribes. But these prosecutions scarcely made a dent in the prevailing system of public deliberations, private control.

In fact, the prosecutions were strictly limited. Robbins told me once that he had worn a wire to tape record others, and he felt both the attorney general and the governor at the time, Dan Lungren and Pete Wilson, were also taking insurer bribes. But the federal prosecutors did not apparently care to take them on, and Robbins backed off from going public on the matter.

The system, as I found it, often allowed the lobbies to cancel each other out. Both the insurers and the lawyers spent millions of dollars annually to defend their respective interests. While they often could not go so far as to get what they wanted, they almost always could block what they did not want. So the status quo held, even if it was distinctly disadvantageous to the citizenry, saddled with high insurance prices and a legal system that often allowed the most unscrupulous elements to prevail.

Gradually, I came to the same conclusion as Boyarsky has -- that the real power lay with the lobbies and most of the elected lawmakers did their bidding as the price of getting reelected. The bureaucracy too seldom defied the lobbies publicly, although, here and there, you could find honest bureaucrats.

The press was often either complicit or naive, but certainly not knowledgable enough to take on the real power in Sacramento. Sometimes, it played on doing so, but it seldom went beyond that. There is no present writer in Sacramento, other than the Sacramento Bee's columnist, Dan Walters, who really seems privy to what is going on behind the scenes.

I know this is not a pretty picture. But it's a true one.

Boyarsky has told me that when he reached the ethics commission, he found the majority unwilling to adequately punish transgressors. I know one of his predecessors, the admired former Times national editor, Ed Guthman, was often frustrated as well.

We find on the national scene as well, powerful lobbies. Why do you think no meaningful action is taken on climate control or the oil industry, for example? Despite the campaigning of such presidential candidates as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, both of whom have vowed to take on the lobbyists, both often find their campaigns riddled with them, as was Sen. Hillary Clinton's.''

Real reform would entail a bloody public brawl to subdue these groups. as the Clintons contemplated doing when they briefly tried to insitute a broad reform of health care, only to knuckled under to power insurer and medical advertising against it.

Right now, as Boyarsky was allowed to tell us briefly, the lobbies are in the driver's seat. I fear that's not going to change.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Big money corporations and their lobbyists run the government? No kidding. Sounds like a page 1 exclusive. This has been happening for decades, everyone knows it, and it's not a groundbreaking story. What's next? Only those with money win elections? Only tall people play basketball? Only pretty girls are in Playboy?

6/13/2008 12:34 PM  

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