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Tuesday, Feb 26 2013 11:00 PM

Savvy lobbyists are well worth the FPPC fine

By The Bakersfield Californian

Michael Rubio's abrupt resignation from the California State Senate after two short years of service confounded some and disappointed many, just as the de facto leader of Kern County Democrats surely must have expected. But did Rubio and his new employer have to insult us, too?

We refer to Rubio's sudden ship-jumping from the chairmanship of the state Senate's Environmental Quality Committee to what is essentially the functional chairmanship of a chief supplicant to that committee, Chevron Corp. In a statement, Chevron said Rubio's new job as director of governmental affairs will involve "supervising a team of legislative and regulatory analysts and advocates in Sacramento." In other words, he will be the leader and perhaps lead strategist for Chevron's lobbying efforts in the Capitol.

But wouldn't it run afoul of California law for a legislator to make such a switch? State law prohibits former legislators from working as paid lobbyists for one year after they leave office. Rubio waited zero years, announcing his resignation from the Legislature and his move to Chevron on the same day.

Chevron finds a highly dubious distinction in all of this: Rubio, it is implied, would not actually be working in the trenches as a full-on lobbyist. As a supervising administrator, he would somehow be above the fray, merely supervising Chevron's team of lobbyists, and would be therefore exempt from the clutches of Government Code 87406(b).

Problem is, that posture violates both the intent and letter of the law. The law says no former member of the Legislature may "act as (an) agent" for "any other person by making any formal or informal appearance ... or by making any oral or written communication ... for the purpose of influencing legislative action." Whether he's buying drinks down at Fat Frank's or back at his office, moving pieces on his legislative chess board, Rubio is "influencing legislative action."

Phillip Ung of Common Cause agrees.

"Chevron is saying he is not doing any lobbying directly, but is he managing lobbyists?" Ung told E&E News. "Is he putting together political strategy? Is he bringing his cell phone and all the telephone numbers he's collected over time and the contacts that he's made?"

Ethan Elkind, a climate research fellow at the University of California, told E&E News that governmental affairs directors "set policy."

"Maybe he's not going to get a lobbying license and walk the halls" of the Capitol, Elkind said. "(But) every time I've seen someone as director of government affairs, they're essentially lobbying."

If it walks like a violation and talks like a violation, it's a violation. The penalty? About the same as a midweek luncheon for legislators at the Esquire Grill. Violations of the Political Reform Act are punishable by fines from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission of up to $5,000 per ding. That ought to send chills down the spine of every honcho at Chevron, which last year spent $5.7 million on total statewide influence-peddling.

If Rubio is going to sell out the Legislature's Democratic caucus, the Kern County Democrats who looked to him for leadership, and his former 16th District constituents, he ought to have the decency to give a credible explanation. Rubio needs to tell them what he'll be doing and -- other than the more-time-with-family factor -- why it's so important.

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