Skip to comments.The Gop's Star Behind The Star - Bob White Gets Things Done--Just Don't Call Him A Lobbyist
Posted on 05/20/2005 6:21:51 PM PDT by calcowgirl
SACRAMENTO - California's capital is packed with more than 1,000 lobbyists, but when people want to make something happen in Sacramento, they often turn instead to Bob White, a genial Republican maestro who helped elect Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
White has an advantage lobbyists don't. While registered influence peddlers must reveal whom they work for, White calls himself a strategist who doesn't directly push for changes in state policy. That legal distinction allows White to conceal who his corporate clients are, even though he and members of his consulting firm, California Strategies, go to bat for them by exploiting a loophole in state lobbying laws to influence the Schwarzenegger administration.
White's business dealings are raising questions about whether his close relationship with Schwarzenegger's administration is tilting major state decisions in favor of his clients. And they could pose a political conundrum for Schwarzenegger, who ran on a pledge to bring a new level of integrity to the state Capitol.
Since Schwarzenegger took office in November 2003, White has met at least 19 times with top Schwarzenegger officials, taking part in discussions on everything from timber policy and major land deals to Medi-Cal reform and state computer contracts, according to interviews and appointment calendars obtained by the San Jose Mercury News.
White, who served as chief of staff to Gov. and U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson for nearly three decades, stepped in at key points to help media powerhouse Hearst Corp. seal a controversial land deal. He advises the California Hospital Association on one of the most politically charged issues facing the new governor -- hiring more nurses. And he helped a Virginia health care firm with a dicey track record that has since won more business from the new governor.
California Strategies partner Rusty Areias also urged California's massive pension fund, CalPERS, to retain its $67 million investment in the Philippines, work that may have required the firm to register as an agent for a foreign government.
Another California Strategies partner, Jared Ficker, began talking to state officials on behalf of the timber industry at least eight months before registering as a lobbyist.
Taken together, the activities lead critics to question whether California Strategies executives are in fact lobbying the Schwarzenegger administration.
"Bob White's previous role with both Wilson and Schwarzenegger suggest that when he's hired as a consultant, it is for much more than just providing strategy, it's for providing access," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.
White, Areias and Ficker declined repeated requests for comment. Instead, White issued a two-sentence statement, saying his firm takes "seriously our responsibility to our clients and to the public to strictly adhere to every applicable law and reporting requirement."
Letter of the law
While the partners talk to administration officials about a variety of issues, California Strategies partner Jason Kinney said that none of the discussions are covered by California's narrowly crafted lobbying laws.
"To the outside world, some of it may sound like lobbying," said Kinney, who served as chief speechwriter for former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. "It may walk like a duck and talk like a duck to the outside world, but in the eyes of the law it's not."
California's Political Reform Act requires those attempting to influence state rules and regulations to register as a lobbyist if they receive, or are entitled to receive, $2,000 a month for talking to lawmakers or administration officials. Some attempts to influence state officials, such as helping a client win contracts, are not considered lobbying. Anyone found guilty of breaking the law can be barred for four years from lobbying or running for office.
Political reformers said California Strategies may be exploiting a loophole that needs to be closed.
"Bob White has clearly been someone who has had extraordinary access," said Feng. "He provides his clients with specific access to administrative and elected officials that he has developed relationships with. That ought to fall within the scrutiny of coverage of rules by the Fair Political Practices Commission."
Over the past 30 years, White, 63, has mastered the art of subtle persuasion. In 1997, after serving for decades as Wilson's chief confidant, White set up California Strategies, a bipartisan consulting firm that now has 10 partners.
Corporate clients have long turned to White, but his cachet skyrocketed after he served as campaign co-manager for Schwarzenegger in the historic 2003 recall.
"The perception is that Bob's the guy to see," said Michael Deaver, a Republican lobbyist who served as deputy chief of staff to Ronald Reagan in the White House.
"He understands that it's the second and third level of people who get things done," said Deaver, who has known White since they worked in Sacramento in the 1960s. "Bob has always been very good about nurturing and cultivating those relationships."
White's ties to the governor are still strong. He is one of three board members of the special committee set up to pay for Schwarzenegger's hotel room when he's in Sacramento and to find a permanent home for California's governor. White is still owed $150,000 from his work on the governor's 2003 campaign. And he counts many of the governor's top aides among his friends.
White's offices are often Sacramento's best restaurants, where he brings clients together with friends in the administration. While lobbyists are barred from spending more than $10 a month on state officials, White pays for $100 dinners without breaking the law because he is a consultant.
Administration officials said they never discuss business with White during the dinners, but calendars and interviews show White has set up and taken part in several business meetings with his clients and top Schwarzenegger aides.
Price of San Simeon
One of the biggest deals was the controversial agreement last year by the Schwarzenegger administration to pay Hearst $95 million to protect 82,000 acres of the newspaper and magazine publisher's prized coastal property in San Luis Obispo County.
On at least two occasions, White stepped in to talk directly with Schwarzenegger aides at the center of the deal.
The first was March 10, 2004, when talks between Hearst, which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, and the state were hung up on who would manage the property.
White met for lunch across the street from the Capitol with state Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman and Nita Vail, executive director of the California Rangeland Trust, an open space group run by ranchers.
Also joining them was Ryan Broddrick, the Department of Fish and Game director, who said they spoke about the trust's role in the project.
Three months after the lunch, the Schwarzenegger administration unveiled its proposal, one that sparked intense opposition from environmentalists who argued that Hearst was getting a sweetheart deal.
In early August, the state's nonpartisan fiscal watchdog called on the state to delay the project because of concerns that the official $235 million appraisal of the property was wildly overinflated.
Four days later, White took part in an Aug. 9 conference call about the appraisal with a Hearst attorney, the head of the State and Consumer Services Agency, Fred Aguiar, and Ron Joseph, director of the Department of General Services, which reviewed the estimate.
In the end, the Schwarzenegger administration agreed with the disputed estimate and bought the property for $95 million, a deal that allowed Hearst to seek a federal tax write-off for $140 million -- the difference between the sale price and the appraisal.
Meals and deals
Environmental activists who long suspected that White played an influential role said the meetings offered the first evidence that the administration was swayed by the strategist.
"It was apparent to us that the fix was in and that there were some high-level back-room meetings going on," said Tarren Collins, an attorney and past chair of the Sierra Club chapter in San Luis Obispo County. "Learning more about Bob White's influence helps explain a lot about the process."
Apart from the meeting, Aguiar had dinner with White at least three times last year, with White picking up the bill each time. A month before the conference call, records show, Aguiar had dinner with White, who paid $100 for the secretary's meal, a perk that registered lobbyists are barred from offering under state law.
Aguiar emphatically denied he discussed business during the dinners, and Rob Stutzman, the governor's communications director, said White has no special influence.
"We don't tilt decisions in favor of anyone's clients," said Stutzman. "You don't need to hire anyone to get a meeting with the administration."
Bay Bridge bid
White has also stepped in to help other clients.
He has helped the California Hospital Association with what has proved to be one of the most politically charged issues of the Schwarzenegger administration: a requirement that hospitals hire more nurses.
Schwarzenegger sided with the group by putting a freeze on the new law, a move quickly overturned by the courts.
Four days after Schwarzenegger dethroned Davis, CHA President C. Duane Dauner and White got together for a small dinner with Pat Clarey, Schwarzenegger's campaign manager, who now serves as the governor's chief of staff. But Dauner said they didn't discuss the issue.
Chrisman and Aguiar aren't the only Schwarzenegger officials to meet with White.
Last summer, Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe had lunch with White and Kathryn Lowell, then an executive with Maximus, a private consulting company that is being investigated for possibly defrauding the federal health-care system.
Maximus, which lost a New Jersey health-care contract last year after a wave of complaints about its operation, has a $400 million contract to run California's Healthy Families and Access for Infants and Mothers programs.
At the time of the meeting, another $200 million state health-care contract with Maximus was set to expire. Agency spokeswoman Nicole Kasabian Evans said the state decided in March 2004 to extend the contract for one year and, three days before the lunch, a top health official signed off on the extension. Two weeks after the lunch, the Department of Health Services gave final approval.
Lowell adamantly rejected any link between the contract and the lunch.
Along with extending the contract, Schwarzenegger unveiled a new budget in January that includes policy changes that would expand the company's work in California.
California Strategies also sought to help a client with one of the biggest challenges facing the Schwarzenegger administration: whether to scrap plans to use a costly design to replace the Bay Bridge.
Last fall, Peter Kiewit Sons, a losing competitor for the project, hired White's firm as the administration was weighing plans to shelve the original design -- a move that would have created a new opening for the company to win the multibillion-dollar project.
Ten days before the Schwarzenegger administration announced its decision to shelve the design, White had dinner with the Cabinet official at the center of the debate: Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Sunne Wright McPeak.
Although White's firm had been hired by Kiewit, McPeak said the issue didn't come up at their dinner.
The only time someone from his firm approached her, McPeak said, was at a farmer's market near the Capitol when California Strategies partner Rusty Areias urged her to put the bridge design back out to bid.
CalPERS and Philippines
Areias, a former Democratic assemblyman, was instrumental last year after the Philippines enlisted White's firm to persuade CalPERS to hold onto its investments in the island nation.
Cora Guidote, the former investment relations officer for the Philippines who worked with California Strategies at the time, said White and Areias were hired "to do some lobby work and educate members about the importance of the investment."
Areias spoke with CalPERS members, including State Controller Steve Westly, who also sat down at the consultant's request with the Philippine ambassador.
Federal law requires people who do political work for foreign nations to register with the federal government.
Kinney said California Strategies contacted the U.S. Department of Justice for advice and was told the work would fall under an exemption for commerce issues. The firm is now seeking a written opinion from the department.
While White and Areias are not registered lobbyists, their firm opened a lobbying branch earlier this year. California Strategies hired three lobbyists, including Jared Ficker, a Democrat who specializes in environmental work.
Appointment calendars and interviews show that Ficker started talking about policy issues months before he became a registered lobbyist. Between March 2004 and January, when he was cleared by state officials to lobby, records show Ficker met at least a half-dozen times with Resources Secretary Chrisman and Broddrick at Fish and Game.
At the time, the Fish and Game Commission was debating whether to list coho salmon as an endangered species, a move timber companies represented by California Strategies opposed.
Broddrick said Ficker spoke to him about the listing, but Kinney said his partner discussed watershed permits for timber operations, not the listing -- which was eventually approved by the Fish and Game Commission.
Kinney defended Ficker and said the firm has no special access.
"We're not in the business of exerting unique or undue influence over this or any other administration or trading on our relationships with anyone who works for this administration," he said. "We never have, and we never will."
I admire their guile and abilites. They foisted a social liberal/regulatory libertarian, married to a Kennedy, off on the electorate by cleverly marketing him as a conservative with strong ties to the Bush family.
Yesterday's quote had quite a lot of hidden truth to it:
"The only thing that changed a year and a half ago is the governor,"
Schwarzenegger told listeners of KGO-AM radio in San Francisco.
Here's the short version:
CLIENTS OF CALIFORNIA STRATEGIES
Here's a look at some companies and interests who have disclosed they are clients of Republican strategist Bob White or his political consulting firm, California Strategies.
Hearst Corp.: White helped the media giant seal a controversial $95 million deal to sell 82,000 acres of coastal property in San Luis Obispo County to the state.
Sierra Pacific Industries: The state's largest private landholder and a major timber company relies on White and his firm for help and advice dealing with logging issues in California.
Peter Kiewit Sons: The Nebraska-based construction company holds a lucrative contract to build part of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and was working behind-the-scenes to get the Schwarzenegger administration to put the main section of the project back out to bid.
Tejon Ranch: California Strategies executive Gary Hunt is helping the owner of the single largest piece of private property in the state work out a major land deal similar to Hearst to sell California 100,000 acres.
Republic of the Philippines: Enlisted California Strategies to help convince CalPERS, the nation's largest public pension fund, not to dump $67 million in investments in the Philippines.
Pharmaceuticals: As adviser to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, White is part of the pharmaceutical industry's strategic team working to put a low-cost prescription drug measure on the ballot.
California Hospital Association: The state's main hospital association hired White to help them battle a new state law requiring their members to add more nurses.
Maximus: The Virginia-based private health care consulting company, which lost a New Jersey contract and is under federal investigation for possible Medicaid fraud, holds more than $500 million in contracts with the state of California.
Accenture: The major consulting and outsourcing company has a variety of state contracts, including work on the state's troubled, $800 million child support collection computer system.
Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association: The cellular phone industry trade association recently hired White's firm to help them in part to defeat a bill that would create a consumer bill of rights for cell phone users.
Americans for Solar Power: The Arizona-based group hired California Strategies for help advancing the Schwarzenegger administration's ambitious solar power proposals this year.
Hay Ernest! Where'd you hide the Manure Movers Emblem/Logo thingy you were usin during the Davis administration?
Wouldn't it be a good idea to start resurectin that thing again???
Transcript: Gov. Schwarzenegger on 'FNS'
Sunday, May 08, 2005
WALLACE: This talk about economic girlie men and kicking the butts of the special interests: Is that part of the show?
SCHWARZENEGGER: That's part of Arnoldisms. You know, this is me speaking. I mean, I didn't get elected because I am a trained politician, a typical politician. I'm Arnold. People have followed me over the last 30-some years with done in this country, and they like my style. They like my honesty. They like my approach to various different challenges that are facing me. And that's why they elected me and they trust me.
I have lost track of it, maybe Norm still has a link!
It's bad enough we got a bunxh of leftist prima donnas on Capitol Hill posturing away, now we got a Gub who thinks that works as the best qualities of a leader.
A big chunk of voters have already turned their back on their pick for the Recall, I wonder why? I guess thye have their own style now, too. ;-)
I like your picture... something definitely smells in Stinkymento.
His conpany name should be Republican Kickbacks.