Taxpayer Lobbying is Part of the Game

The recent incendiary headlines regarding the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) employing “lobbyists” was another attempt by opponents to avoid substance and attack the process of building our nation’s first high speed rail system.

Make no mistake, this isn’t an abuse of taxpayer money and the holier than thou statements of some pundits are simply cowardly political attacks on very good people.

Every city, county, agency and department in government has “lobbyists”. Educating public officials is essential for them to make good decisions. Many “lobbyists” come in the form of state officials who are paid fulltime salaries and their titles reflect the education they provide. The Department of Insurance, for instance, has a Deputy Insurance Commissioner specifically for legislative affairs; their task is to support and oppose legislation that effects the Department of Insurance.

Most government entities have such a person or contracts out for them. The City of San Jose has lobbyists for Sacramento and Washington. This is not news nor is it unethical.

In the case of the CHSRA a hiring freeze made hiring a fulltime individual impossible. So the Authority utilized their public relations contract to pay for this vital service. It is an appropriate and necessary function.

Government decision makers are constantly harassed by the opposition to this project, including lobbyists paid by opponents to the project. The opposition seeks to delay and derail the project and they have no scruples in utilizing false or misleading information or in pressuring public officials to oppose the project. Lobbyists in support of the project are needed to provide current, reliable and credible information to decision makers and their role is absolutely essential for a project the scope and size of high speed rail.

These Lobbyists do not carry bags of cash around to influence legislators; they do not give campaign donations or pay for elected officials perks. They are educators who provide information so that busy people can make informed decisions.

The fact they are necessary is a result of the complexity of government, the sheer number of different government entities involved and the multiple of public officials who need to be informed on the project.  Add to their challenge the disinformation supplied by opponents and nobody should envy their task.

What is more galling is the response by some current and former officials who know better than everyone else the need for this service, especially for a project this size. For them to claim ignorance of the process or imply that it was unethical or a misuse of taxpayer money is pure horse manure. Their statements are a form of political cowardice.

As for the media who has tried to turn this issue into another “black-eye” for high speed rail. It might be wise for them, in the future, to check their sources. Just because an individual is ubiquitous to the third estate, has an acerbic tongue and justifies their own actions in personal attacks on their political opponents does not make them credible. It is understandable that professionals in the media need to provide balance to any given story.

But a bully is still a coward, whether he is quoted or not.

And “lobbying” is a not a conflict of interest, unethical or a misuse of public funds. It is a necessity to insure good public policy prevails in an extremely difficult political climate and I was very proud to work with the highly skilled professionals who provided that service to the CHSRA.

Rich Robinson has worked for the California High Speed Rail Authority in the past. He is not currently under contract.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

27 Comments

  1. ” they have no scruples in utilizing false or misleading information or in pressuring public officials to oppose ( support )  the project. “

    “Lobbyists in support” ( oppose ) “the project are needed to provide current, reliable and credible information to decision makers and their role is absolutely essential for a project the scope and size of high speed rail.”

    lobbyists make used car salesmen look like honest people

    “But a bully is still a coward, whether he is quoted or not.” and voters have seen bullies on both sides

    The real HSR issues are:

    a) the HSR cost that has increased 3 times and before completion 4-6 times and will require many more millions in yearly taxes to subsidize

    b) building 1st section in Central California where it will lose money rather in SF – SJ or SD -LA areas where large number of people could use HSR  

    3) California high tax rates, slow economy and HST will require higher taxes killing jobs as companies leave state for lower cost / tax states

    4) better uses of scarce tax dollars because too large California government, excessive pensions and questionable state programs

    5) many support HSR but not at high cost and better uses scarce tax money

    6) HSR has not be truthful about costs or other issues from beginning so voters will say no

    • a)The cost is over 30 years and in inflated dollars.  The operations will run by private companies for a profit.  Building the infrastructure will be subsidized.

      b) There is no high speed rail system in the Central Valley.  A HSR system doesn’t exist until you have tracks from SJ to the LA basin.  Starting in the Central Valley makes sense because you can test the product at full speed through the area and we get more bang for the buck building there.  SF-SJ or SD-LA would be hybrid sections—not a full system, more expensive to build and harder to join in the future.  The Central Valley makes a whole lot of sense.

      3)  The $6 billion will create 120,000 jobs in the most economically impacted geographic area of the state.  We are losing jobs because of a lack of infrastructure, traffic is not going to decrease, roads and new runways are way more expensive and environmentally unsound.  We are the only nonthird world nation not to have High Speed Rail.  The morons who are advocating more freeways are more than misguided, they are dangerous.

      4)  The money allocated for HSR can only go to HSR.  4.5 Billion from the Feds and 2.7 from voter approved state bonds.  There is no contribution from the general fund and schools won’t get a dime more if you decide to stop HSR.

      5)Priorities are a must, but the alternatives to HSR are costlier, more environmentally damaging and have a higher cost longterm (gas isn’t going down).  It is the best solution for the longterm fiscal health of our state.

      6)  Part of the problem with building a system is that all the answers are not available at the beginning of the project.  We have a better idea on what it will cost, but we still have Environmental impact studies, mitigations and unknown costs going forward.  The Authority put out its best estimate, it changed and may change again.  That doesn’t make the Authority liars.  All projects of this size cost money.  Due the firestorm of ill-conceived and uninformed comments, this latest business plan is very conservative regarding cost estimates and takes into account inflated dollars.  So there is a good chance it will come in under current projections.

      Finally, much of the new cost comes from delays by NIMBY lawsuits etc.  The project is nickle and dimed by opponents.  Every Public Information Act Request, every lawsuit, every extra community meeting costs taxpayer money.

      If they don’t provide this information or go the extra mile they are accused of hiding information or lying.  In short, many questions are still unanswered simply because the studies are not complete, decisions have not been made and public input is still being considered.

      But try telling an irate homeowner you don’t know th answer.  The accuse the bureaucracy of lying or a cover-up or a conspiracy.  It’s crazy.

      The CHSRA is doing the best job it can with a tight budget to provide information.  Yet everytime it provides information—the opponents jump on one element or another to try and discredit the project.

      Which brings us to the irony of critisizing the authority for hiring lobbyists.  Legislators have been critical of the project because of a lack of information.  When the Authority provides that information, they are critisized for the cost.

      The project will go through and nobody will remember the naysayers—but that does not mean it was or will be easy.

      • > The $6 billion will create 120,000 jobs in the most economically impacted geographic area of the state.

        This is the oldest, stinkiest, and most dispicable claim of the Keyensians:

        “Spend a gazillion government tax dollars borrowed from future generations on X will create umtillion high paid union jobs with wonderful benefits.”

        It doesn’t make any difference what “X” is.  It could be a slow and clunky “High Speed Rail”, a bridge to nowhere, or digging holes and filling them up.

        What matters is, gazillions of dollars get put in the unions’ supperdish, and future generations eat the cost.

        And: unions vote in elections and future generations don’t.

        This is criminal child abuse.

        This is one of the most horrific abuses of the public interest perpetrated by politicians and it should be ended decisively.

        One thought is to pass a consitutional amendment prohibiting Congress or any legislature from obligating citizens to any public debt beyond the electoral term of any current legislator.

        In the case of the U.S. Congress, that would be six years.  If the High Speed Rail can’t be PAID FOR in six years, it can’t be built.

  2. It’s time to cancel the California high speed rail project and disband CHSRA. This is due to the ballooning project costs and continuing dishonesty on the part of the California High Speed Rail Authority. The latest revelation is that claims that high speed rail would create a million jobs have been proven false. The San Jose Mercury explains “The 1-million figure came from the project’s technical studies. It actually was the number of “job years,” a statistical term that counts years of work rather than actual jobs. One person working for five years adds up to five job years in this parlance.”

    Governor Moonbeam should pay attention to the HSR peer review group, the legislative analysts office, the state auditor, the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies and other impartial observers who have raised legitimate objections to this project. Focusing on the relatively minor lobbyist issue glosses over the serious deficiencies of the high speed rail project.

    The high speed rail project now being pushed by the Governor and the High Speed Rail Authority is not the same project that the voters approved in 2008. The Authority is guilty of pulling a “bait and switch” on taxpayers, who live in a state in deep denial of its financial problems. If not canceled immediately, the revised and more expensive project needs a re-vote.

    • See answers above.  CHSRA did not lie, costs estimated in todays dollars are not the same as those estimated in future dollars.  A person who has a job for 5 years is not unhappy and it counts towards the economy. 

      You can nitpick all you want—the fact is the project will produce jobs—good jobs. 

      There is no bait and switch.  The project is the least expensive alternative to our growing transportation needs.  It is a complicated project, but it is worthwhile and nobody needs to revote.

      • > You can nitpick all you want—the fact is the project will produce jobs—good jobs. 

        Robbing banks provides jobs – good jobs – for bank robbers.

        Picking pockets provides jobs – good jobs – for pick pockets.

        Selling illegal drugs provides jobs – good jobs – for drug pushers.

        Just so you don’t miss the point, which you have demonstrated you are easily capable of:  there is a moral and ethical dimension to “creating jobs”.

        Creating jobs – good jobs – by turning future generations into debt slaves and indentured servants is despicable and heinous.

        The crazy crackpot Keynesian theory of “creating jobs” by stealing from future generations SHOULD be prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment.

  3. In “The World According To Rich” the people are silly to be concerned that special interest lobbyists ‘educating’ our legislators may sometimes gain disproportional influence.
    So I’m sure Mr. Robinson happily accepts the consequences of the influence that BP lobbyists had on members of Congress as they educated them as to the best practices for running offshore oil platforms in the Gulf. And if those same lobbyists were to educate our legislators that drilling off the Mendocino coast is a good idea, Rich Robinson would meekly acquiesce. “After all”, he’d reason, “I’m just an ordinary citizen who doesn’t have the time or interest to study these things. It’s my duty to leave these gigantic decisions up to the professional politicians working together with the professional lobbyists. I’m sure they must have the public’s best interest in mind.”

    • There are good people who lobby for my side and some others who lobby against—just like lawyers, journalists, consltants and the clergy.

  4. The term lobbyist comes from the placement of people seeking to meet with legislators in the lobby of the chamber.

    Lobbyists come in all shape and sizes

    Annie Sprinkle, the ex publisher of the Berkeley Barb, is now a paid lobbyist in Washington, and to a large extent, HENRY KISSINGER is a lobbyist.

    People like Mr. Robinson have to register as lobbyists and provide their name and extent of their activity.  The bullies do not identify themselves, and as we read online, several well known “actvists” who claim to be community college workers or translators, write from closed names for fear of being discovered.

    I think High Speed Rail will be good for California.  However, I know there are several people in Palo Alto who object to it.  They hired a lobbyist to represent them.

    What is sad, Rich, is that there are people who hate all enterprises because they hate all progress.  The same people who write nonsense about the work of HSR, often are the same who want segregated neighborhoods.  I think the people legitimately against HSR have the guts to say so and back up their words with their names.

    The ones that don’t want to legitimately oppose or support of the project surf the internet for naughty pictures, and whine with no reason.

    The Sierra Club and Audobon Society ask for a lot of donations for the use of governmental relations.  I am not against it, but shouldn’t we all be honest about it?

    IF you are associated with this effort, and it has been hotly debated by both sides, you should be proud of your work.  You did it.  It is on the agenda, so be proud of your work.

    • I am not now, nor have I ever been a lobbyist.  I have worked with lobbyists, but I am not one of them.  If you need a lobbyist I’ll be happy to refer one. . .

      • > I am not now, nor have I ever been a lobbyist.

        Well, I feel better now.  You mother at least gave you some sense of personal dignity.

        Have you ever been a cowboy?

        “Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys”

  5. The high speed rail project stinks and Rich just trots out CHSRA’s discredited arguments that have been refuted by non-partisan experts. Reports of this criticism are plentiful but RR wants to ignore them.

    For example, the argument that we need high speed rail because the alternatives are more expensive is hogwash. The LA Times reported on it here:
    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/17/local/la-me-bullet-exaggeration-20120117

    “Now, that alternative is coming under attack by a state-appointed panel of experts, who will soon release an assessment of the rail project’s business plan and cast doubt on the accuracy and validity of the $171-billion figure,” The Times reported.

    “There is some dishonesty in the methodology,” said Samer Madanat, director of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies, the top research center of its type in the nation. “I don’t trust an estimate like this.”

    Furthermore, the LA Times reports that the city of Burlingame weighed in too. “The astounding figure is completely divorced from any reality over the next 50 years,” city officials wrote urging the authority to stop using the number. Madanat said the rail authority has rebuffed offers to have UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and UC Davis, which have among the top five university transportation departments in the nation, help analyze the bullet-train system.

    Now Rich, why would the rail authority resist offers for UC to analyze the HSR system? Is CHSRA claiming that the University of California cannot be objective?

    “You have a tremendous conflict of interest,” said Elizabeth Goldstein Alexis, co-founder of the watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design. “You can’t see where the authority ends and the private consultants begin because they are so intertwined. It is extraordinary the institutional conflicts of interest that exist all over this project.”

    And you can’t wash away the report of another independent agency, the State Auditor Elaine Howle, who said that “the program’s overall financial situation has become increasingly risky.” http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_19871194

    Highlights of the State Auditor report:

    1. The cost estimates do not include phase one’s operating and maintenance costs, yet based on data in the plan these costs could total about $96.8 billion from 2025 through 2060.

    2. There are no details about the current largest potential funding source, the federal government.

    3. There have been inappropriate contracting practices such as splitting Information Technology services totaling $3.1 million into 13 individual contracts with one vendor. The State Contracting Manual prohibits agencies from splitting contracts to avoid competitive bidding requirements.

    4. The authority is missing statements of economic interest for some of its contractors despite the conflict-of-interest code requirements; and the authority does not require any of its subcontractors to file statements of economic interest. As a result, the authority has no way to verify that subcontractors do not have real or perceived conflicts of interest.

    5. “There is no way the high-speed rail can meet the latest forecast of 36.8 million rides a year on a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system. Where will the riders come from? There are only about 3.2 million airline riders a year going to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco and another 1.7 million traveling between Los Angeles and Oakland and San Jose.

    And estimates of jobs created by the high speed rail project have been misleadingly inflated by using weasel-words like “job-years” as described in this report:
    http://www.mercurynews.com/california-high-speed-rail/ci_19596026

    • Oh, where to start?

      When was the last time an Auditor built a high speed rail system?

      1) No business plan can account for every contingency.  The goal is to get a private operator into the project.  We don’t know how much in any subsidy will be needed—and we won’t get a private operator until we approve the second section and fund it—because they have to be convinced some bureaucrat won’t stop it.

      2)  The Federal government.  Eventually, funds will be allocated through the transportation bill.  Currently nothing will get funded under this Republican Congress.  The dirty secret is there is no money allocated for roads, highways, airports, bridges or any other infrastructure.  We do have $6 billion available for the first segment right now.  Build it and the rest will come—eventually.

      One more point, the Federal Highway System did not have dedicated funding for completion when it was started—

      3) You will paper this thing to death.  The competitive bidding process is a joke.  All agencies use tricks to get around it because it delays projects, increases costs and causes unnecessary lawsuits.  Really?  We have to bid for IT?

      NOTE:  The process is so f**ked up that they currently have not been able to select a new PR contract.  Thus I am not under contract and have no reason to be politically correct in my answers.

      4) Economic Interest Forms?  REALLY?  You will spend billions guaranteeing nobody makes a single unethical dime.  We have choked off good people from bidding because they don’t want to deal with bureaucracies and headlines claiming they are criminals because the didn’t file a form. It’s a wonder we built anything in this state.

      5) How many people in cars from LA to SJ/Oak/SF.  How many from Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced.  How many people from San Diego, Orange County, Burbank, Long Beach and LAX.  I don’t have the numbers on me, but the freeways aren’t getting any wider, traffic isn’t getting any less and flights are crammed.

      The analysis of ridership is conservative and best estimate.  The UC model may be fine; but it is not accredited by the Federal Railroad Administration.  But even UC said the model was credible—even though they disagreed with the results.

      There are no finite numbers or predictions that cannot be critisized.  But what we do know is that polling shows people will ride it, if it exists.  I would be on it tomorrow to go to the Dem convention—as would at least 12 other people I know who are currently driving to San Diego.  If we build it, they will ride.

      6) The jobs numbers are too high.  Ok, like the ridership estimates—maybe it only creates 100,000 jobs instead of 120,000.  I’m still good with it—as are the Construction Trades and the cities along the Central Valley that will see the increase in economic activity.  The multiplier will make this one of the biggest job creators our state has ever seen—BTW:  Do you think development and economic activity would occur along the corridor over the next 35 years.  The environmentalists do—because there will be no station in Los Banos due the fear that sprawl would occur in critical habitat.

      $6 Billion spent in California is a big number that could lift a lot of people who are currently hurting.

      As for the State Auditor, I weep for the trees that were cut down to produce that report.

  6. Kate Sunlove

    is the porn newspaper publisher turned lobbyist.

    I am sure all the critics of things like HSR or the stadium used to love their ads.

  7. > Make no mistake, this isn’t an abuse of taxpayer money and the holier than thou statements of some pundits are simply cowardly political attacks on very good people.

    It’s an egregious abuse of the taxpayers and their money.

    The people who are justifying this abuse of taxpayers wealth and property do not have the fundamental integrity and ethics to be allowed to influence government policy in any way, shape, or form.

    If I seem to be “holier than thou”, it’s with very good reason.

    It’s not difficult to be holier than a free lance political grifter sucking off of the public’s taxes AGAINST the interest of the public.

  8. I like trains. I think most people do.  We are not Japan or Europe when it comes to the geography of HSR and it’ll be 20 years before the first ride. Its all conjecture until then.

    As stated before. Fire up the old AMTRACK. On an improved roadbed it’ll do 120 mph, not as fast as HSR but can be fixed up, electrified and (relatively) cheap and quickly.  It will move people in 4 years and get people excited about rail travel North/South.  This does not have to replace HSR just serve as bridge until we get there.  Call it Pre-HSR or something and can possibly use the funding already approved

  9. > Work for a bank.
    > or an oil company, tobacco industry, big pharma or big ag

    Your Government Paid Richness:

    How does working for a bank, oil company, tobacco company, pharma company, or ag company get me GOVERNMENT money to lobby the government.

    I don’t think you listened to the question,.

  10. All of these industries are subsidized by government.  You wanted a government funded gig to lobby government.  There you go.  What dont you get?

    • > All of these industries are subsidized by government.  You wanted a government funded gig to lobby government.  There you go.  What dont you get?

      Your Government Paid Richness:

      President Obama owned the House of Representatives and a veto proof majority in the U.S. Senate for two years.

      If banks, oil companies, tobacco companies, pharma companies, or ag companies are subsidized by the government, it’s because Obama WANTS it that way.

      So, if the lobbying that these companies do is subsidized by the government, do the companies tell Obama what to say, or does Obama tell the companies what to say?

  11. Katy Grimes on CalWatchdog explains high-speed rail in a nutshell:
    “Of course the union employees who will build a High-Speed Rail system, and the manufacturers that will supply the trains support it. Duh. As is typical with government officials in this era of big government, they are deaf to taxpayer concerns and interests, as well as the “series of cautionary reports” warning that the $98.6 billion cost will bankrupt the state, and the HSR business plan is bogus.”

    “If High-Speed rail had merit, was needed, or supported by voters, we could accomplish this with non-union labor, and save a tremendous amount of money in the meantime. But it has no merit, is not needed, and voters would shut it down if a vote was taken today, a Field Poll reported.”

    http://www.calwatchdog.com/2012/02/10/californians-getting-railroaded/

    • We certainly could use the jobs.  And we will need it. 

      We are paying more to bring BART to San Jose.  Did the previous generation in SC County make a mistake by opting out?  I think so. 

      The longer we wait, the higher the cost—in dollars, in environmental damage, in economic growth and in time wasted traveling from one end of the state to the other—by car or plane.  The skies and freeways won’t be less crowded in 30 years.

      Some Neanderthals didn’t think wheels were necessary, for some the auto would never replace the horse—the world is filled with those who can’t, won’t or don’t believe we should—sometimes they are even in the majority.  We choose a different vision.

  12. Several updates for Mr. Robinson, the best writer on SJI

    1)  Heartland Institute, a group funded by the tobbacco industry, and by Exxon, claims to be a think tank advocating smokeless tobacco and attacking High Speed Rail.  (ps stadium opponent Michele Ryan, who is supposed to be working against smoking among teens is making podcasts for this group who says nicotine is not an addictive drug)

    2.  Santa Clara Plays Fair has “hired” Shute, Milhay, and Weinberger to represent in their efforts to block the stadium.  Same law firm is listed on the 2009 Hunters Point EIR as a principal law firm working with Lennar.  The ethics of being a firm connected with the people who most benefit from blocking the Santa Clara, now representing the people in the Santa Clara effort to block the stadium.  They talk about conflicts, yeah, when it is not them.

  13. Finally, someone nails it:
    http://www.insidebayarea.com/opinion/ci_19965512

    “Voters never approved the latest plan. In 2008, they were promised a $45 billion system that, according to the ballot analysis of Proposition 1A, “connects San Francisco Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim, and links the state’s major population centers, including Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego.”

    That price assumed the section between San Francisco and Anaheim would cost about $31 billion. Now the price of that portion has more than doubled, and cost estimates no longer include Sacramento and San Diego. Prop. 1A, approved by 53 percent of voters, would have never passed if residents of those cities had known they would be cut out.”

    This is pure bait & switch.

    Trib again: “It’s clear that (Gov Moonbeam) Brown and (CHSRA board chairman) Richard remain hellbent on pushing ahead. Richard, who promised objectivity, has become a blind advocate. We expect they will revise the plan to address some of the legitimate questions. But it still won’t meet the Prop. 1A parameters. The state can’t legally issue long-term bonds without voter approval, but there has been no such OK for the current plan.”

    Bottom line, “By riding roughshod over voters in his quest for high-speed rail, Brown endangers support for his tax measure in November. During his gubernatorial campaign, he promised no tax increases without voter approval. Now, on high-speed rail bonds, the voters don’t matter.”

    Let’s do a re-vote. If high speed rail is so wonderful, Jerry, Dan and Rich will have no trouble convincing voters to support it again.