The Law of the Land

How does a bill become a law? It's not the way you learned it in school.
The 44th session of the Arizona Legislature won't officially convene until next week, but the lawmakers are already huddling at the Capitol, planning their agenda, writing bills, lining up sponsors, strategizing votes.

No, we're not talking about the 90 legislators you voted into office in November. Instead, it's lobbyists who make the laws in Arizona. And not just any lobbyists. There are literally hundreds of people registered with the Secretary of State to lobby at the Arizona Legislature, but only a few are more powerful than a party caucus, able to pass laws in a single session.

We'll call them Super Lobbyists.
Not all lobbyists are created equal. Super Lobbyists use a powerful elixir of gifts, expertise, schmoozing and, yes, money to have their way with the Legislature.

"If you think it [the system] isn't being driven by contributions, you're foolish, because it is," says Democrat Paul Johnson, who lost to Governor Jane Dee Hull in last year's election. "And if it wasn't being driven by contributions, there wouldn't be millions of dollars being given to these campaigns."

Super Lobbyists represent many powerful clients at once, which exponentially increases their power when arguing for any one particular bill. Their power isn't found in the $100 contribution they give to Legislator X, but to the $100 contributions they give to a dozen legislators at Legislator X's request. Super Lobbyists run campaigns, they host fund raisers, they walk legislative districts to gather signatures on candidates' (usually incumbents') nominating petitions. And Super Lobbyists were prevalent on Senate President Brenda Burns' now-infamous list, circulated last summer, of lobbyists recruited to assist Republican candidates.

In many cases, legislators say they trust Super Lobbyists more than they trust their own staff. Legislative staff turnover is high; many Super Lobbyists have been at the Capitol for more than 15 years.

While most Super Lobbyists spread themselves thin, representing many different clients at once, there is one area where full-time lobbyists for specific companies wield great influence: utilities. (See page 18.)

Lobbyists, as we all learned in school, are so-named because they lurk in the lobby outside the House and Senate chambers, hoping to catch members on their way in to cast votes. But Super Lobbyists are embedded in the election and lawmaking process like termites, and so far, no reform put into place has stopped or even slowed them.

Previous reforms have increased disclosure and limited contributions, although those limits ($300 for legislators, $760 for statewide candidates) disappear when candidates put their own money into a race, giving lobbyists an opening to contribute vast amounts to a candidate.

The jury is still out on the latest and most radical reform, Proposition 200, passed last year by Arizona voters. The publicly funded system all but eliminates campaign contributions greater than $5 for participants. In the 1998 elections, some individual contributions ranged as high as $30,000 from a single contributor. Proposition 200 will be tested in the 2000 election cycle, although its supporters expect that a court challenge will soon stop it in its tracks.

Proposition 200 may limit the power of the Super Lobbyist, but only in terms of direct campaign contributions. They will still be able to wine and dine their favorite lawmakers. They'll even be able to use a loophole in the Proposition 200 law to continue to run independent expenditure campaigns on behalf of their favorite candidates and/or issues.

And the Legislature will continue to be horribly understaffed, racing to hear more than 1,200 bills in sessions lasting about 100 days.

Meanwhile, another reform, the term-limit initiative passed by Arizona voters that took effect in 1995, only increases lobbyists' power.

There are no term limits for lobbyists.
If you think the Super Lobbyists don't have anything to do with you, you're wrong. Most of the Arizona Legislature's actions don't make the news, and this is certain to be a dull year. There's no budget crisis, no StudentsFirst, no federal environmental mandates requiring the Legislature to take immediate action or lose millions in funding. The headlines may not be titillating, but that doesn't mean that the Legislature won't make decisions this winter and spring that will affect the lives of millions of Arizonans.

Last year, the Arizona Legislature considered bills that could have a dramatic impact on your life in countless ways, including:

* The new house you buy. In 1998, homebuilders and their lobbyists authored a bill that would have severely limited a homeowner's right to sue for shoddy construction. (See story on page 11.)

* The HMO that gives you health coverage. A powerful band of insurance company lobbyists has dissuaded lawmakers from enacting bills that would force HMOs to cover such vital services as mental-health care. (See story on page 15.)

* The taxes you pay. You'll pay more--and big business will pay less--thanks to legislation passed last year. (See story on page 21.)

* The water you drink. Lobbyists are slowly chipping away at Arizona's nationally acclaimed groundwater protection law. Last year was no exception--and they'll be back at the Capitol in 1999. (See story on page 23.)

In the pages that follow, you can read about each of these specific issues, the impact of Super Lobbyists on the legislative process, and the many millions of dollars it saves their clients.

All of those issues will be up for consideration again this year.
The Super Lobbyists will be out in force. And the legislators? Oh, yeah, they'll be around, too.

So just what separates the Super Lobbyist from a mere mortal? Let's meet one.

Jack LaSota is a Super Lobbyist. He's got the clients, the cash and the clout. LaSota served as a state attorney general and chief of staff to then-governor Bruce Babbitt in the late 1980s. Over the years both before and after that, he and his firm--the latest incarnation is called Williams, LaSota & Miller Consulting Group--have represented dozens of clients. LaSota's best known for his representation of racetracks, schools and counties.

LaSota has championed reform. He served as legal counsel to the group that passed last year's Proposition 105, the "Voter Protection Act," which prevents the Legislature from changing initiatives passed by the people. But he sees nothing wrong with the power lobbyists have at the Capitol. LaSota describes the lawmaking process nonchalantly.

In a typical scenario, LaSota and one of his clients come up with the idea for a bill. LaSota writes the language himself, then finds a legislator who will let him open a "bill file" at the Office of Legislative Counsel, known as Leg Counsel. He works with the staff at Leg Counsel to craft his bill. He recruits other legislators to co-sponsor his bill. He shepherds the bill through the committee process, and convinces members to support it. If the bill makes it to the governor's desk, LaSota will be there to argue for it. And if it becomes a law, he'll likely be at the bill-signing ceremony.

The bill's sponsor, the legislator, is superfluous.
As one longtime member of the Legislature, who requested anonymity, puts it, "The legislator is sort of hands-off--just get the bill introduced, get it in final form, get my name on it, go and circulate it and get it in.

"It's all delegated out, and there's this remoteness that exists between the legislator and their own legislation. I've seen sponsors of legislation--when their bill comes up in the committee, there's a question that's asked, and they say, 'Well, ask Lobbyist Fred,' because the legislator doesn't have a clue."

So why is the legislator so clueless?
A number of reasons. For one, the Legislature is grossly understaffed. The Senate Democrats, for example, have only six full-time staffers. In the House, even the majority Republicans assign only one staffer to each committee, and the Democrats are sometimes forced to assign totally inexperienced interns to monitor committee activity. There's too much work; no one can catch every trick the lobbyists try to push through and warn legislators.

The lobbyists woo the staff, too. Super Lobbyist Allan Stanton and others host a luncheon each year at Phoenix Country Club for the dozens of secretaries who work in the House and Senate.

"Members have enough trouble keeping lobbyists off their doorsteps--and when they're buying their secretaries chocolate and taking them to lunch, it makes the secretaries feel rude to say no," says one legislative observer.

Term limits will also help make lobbyists more indispensable. Because of term limits, lobbyists will outlast members--and this will only get worse, when many legislators are pre-empted from running in 2000. Members are limited to four consecutive two-year terms.

Senator Chris Cummiskey, a Phoenix Democrat, says, "It takes two years just to understand what's going on around here. So if you are going to spend a fourth of your legislative time . . . with a lampshade over your head, it increases the influence of those who have long institutional knowledge but are there representing particular interests."

And finally, some legislators--whether they've been in office for two weeks or two years or two decades--are, simply, star struck.

"Some of the people down here haven't really had much of a life," says Phoenix Republican Senator Tom Smith. "They haven't been in business and industry or they haven't run their own business and they haven't been around a heck of a lot. So they get down here, and you can get swept up in the routine."

You know--reserved parking, titles, receptions. Lunches with spit-polished Super Lobbyists who know all the good restaurants in town.

Jack LaSota doesn't see the legislator as a clueless patsy. In the end, he observes, it's the legislator who has to sign off on the bill and the body must approve it, so as the lobbyist, he doesn't have total authority. As for the bill-writing process, LaSota takes a pragmatic approach.

"It seems to me you're going to be most successful if you have something pretty well-baked, because you've got something to show them other than just ideas; you've got actual text for them to take a look at," he says. "And you also make the job of the Leg Counsel theoretically easier, because you've got something down that they can tinker with, instead of asking them to write. I always find that it's easier to edit than to create."

What gives Jack LaSota the ability to create bills that might become laws? After all, he might be a good guy, but he wasn't elected by the people.

It comes down to influence, usually won with a mix of money, gifts, expertise and schmoozing. LaSota is no exception. He doesn't do a lot of wining and dining, but during the 1998 campaign season, LaSota gave $6,795 to state and legislative candidates, making him one of the most generous donors in the state.

Employees at LaSota's firm gave an additional $3,561. The firm's clients include corporations like Pfizer/U.S. Pharmaceuticals, Sears Roebuck and Co., and Pepsico, and local interests, including Maricopa County, the Arizona News Service, the Arizona Small Business Association, Arizona Physicians IPA, the Arizona Appraisers Coalition and the Land Title Association of Arizona. Many of those organizations have political action committees that contribute to Arizona candidates, and employees who contribute, too. For example, employees at Arizona Physicians IPA gave a total of $1,369, and the Land Title Association of Arizona's PAC contributed $5,810 to candidates during the 1998 election cycle.

"It isn't all bought and paid for," says LaSota, who insists mutual respect and personal relationships nurtured through time are far more important than any influence a campaign contribution can buy.

"It depends on who the legislator is," he adds. "There are some with whom you can have a very good relationship, who really like you and are very helpful to you and yet they'll just as easily say, 'I love you dearly but I ain't going your way on this.' There are others who you tend to think if you really need something they will vote the way you want them to, just because it's you."

And then there are the lobbyists with a small "l," the lobbyists for so-called progressive groups like the Sierra Club and Arizona Right to Choose, who work the halls full-time but somehow never find themselves writing laws and schmoozing with leadership.

Bruce Miller, who has lobbied at the Legislature for the past two years--primarily on behalf of Arizona Right to Choose, an abortion-rights group--sat down recently to count how many non-business lobbyists are down at the Capitol full-time.

"I said, I bet I can count it on two hands," he recalls. "I didn't need the second hand."

Yes, Miller agrees, money is power. But it's not a simple quid pro quo.
"I don't know that lobbyists buy influence," he says. "I have too many friends who are legislators. I don't believe anybody trades votes for money. I really don't believe that. But I firmly believe that contributions will secure you access to candidates."

Miller continues, "Big donors have bigger voices than little donors. It's just that simple. Now, does a big donor always get his or her way? No, I don't believe that. But just the fact that they have the access and can explain their point of view really can make a significant difference."

Miller gave $100 in campaign contributions during the 1998 election cycle. His primary employer, Arizona Right to Choose, gave $60.16 in PAC contributions. Last year, Miller also represented some adult businesses. Their contributions: Albright Investment Corporation, $13,220 from employees; Danny Golladay, $3,100; Great Alaskan Bush Co., $0; Modern World, $1,400 from employees; Ziegfield Inc., $0.

He doesn't look forward to going up against HMO lobbyists this spring on the issue of mandated contraceptives, but if he does, Miller's learned the tricks of the trade in 20 years in politics. As long as you can catch a member for 30 seconds, you can argue your point.

"An elevator ride to the third floor is sheer heaven," Miller says. "If it gets stuck, you've made your day."

And the elevators in the House building get stuck all the time.
Sandy Bahr says lobbying for the Sierra Club is "like being at the fancy dinner and always sitting at the kids' table. . . . Or, frankly, we're not invited to dinner at all."

This month Bahr begins her fifth session at the Legislature, advocating for green issues.

Yes, she says, the difference between herself and the Super Lobbyists is about money. Bahr spread $85 among three candidates during the 1998 election cycle. The Sierra Club's PAC gave a total of $300.

But it's not just about putting dollars into campaign coffers. For the most part, Bahr is alone at the Legislature, the Sierra Club's only paid state lobbyist and often the only environmental lobbyist at all. On any given issue, she may be up against behemoth business interests, like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which has a lineup of powerful lobbyists.

The Sierra Club has 11,000 members in Arizona, and in the past, Bahr has encouraged members to come to the Legislature to testify--but that is often disastrous.

"We've had volunteers in tears," she says. "They're just not used to how mean the legislative process can be."

Herb Guenther, a Yuma Democrat, served a term in the House in the early Nineties and is returning this year as a senator. He agrees that members of the public aren't always treated well at the Capitol.

Of his time in the House, Guenther recalls, "It was kind of like we were being put out by taking public testimony."

He admits it's easier to listen to veteran lobbyists, but says that's more because of their polished speaking style than their fat pocketbooks and friendly faces.

The lobbyists are "much more direct because they've had much more practice," Guenther says. "They know what to say and what not to say."

Michael Josephson, president of the nonpartisan Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina del Rey, California, teaches ethics courses to legislators around the country. He tells them to imagine they are judges, not legislators.

"Imagine a judge who's about to decide a very important case. And all of the sudden you find the guy from the other side is having a private meeting with him in his office," Josephson says.

That's what happens when a lobbyist gets access to a legislator. Add campaign contributions, golf tournaments and free meals into the mix, and you have a recipe for trouble, Josephson says.

The dangerous part isn't the campaign contribution itself, he adds. It's what that contribution buys: time. "The opportunity to persuade, to cajole, to ingratiate. Now, all of these things are legal, but they obstruct the capacity of the decision-maker to make an objective judgment."

And that's just compounded by the fact that the Arizona Legislature is understaffed and meets part-time, often rushing to conclude its regular sessions in less than 100 days.

"The system is not well-designed to yield intelligent, objective judgments," Josephson says. "And if we don't adjust the system, even good people find themselves making judgments on inadequate information. Because even a fairly honest lobbyist is not going to tell you all the downsides."

Sandy Bahr says it's the subtlety of the Super Lobbyists' influence that makes them so unstoppable.

"It's not a direct quid pro quo, and that's why it's so difficult to achieve any kind of real reform," she says. "It's sort of like the discrimination we have now instead of the segregation we had back in the Fifties and Sixties."

Change is not coming easy. Every legislative session, someone sponsors a bill that would prohibit elected officials from taking gifts from lobbyists. Proposition 200 could have an impact on campaign contributions, but lobbyists will still use independent expenditures to get around the law.

In fact, there hasn't been a reform yet that lobbyists haven't been able to get around. Bahr is setting her sights on plans to put an initiative on the Arizona ballot in 2000 that would create a redistricting commission with the goal of stopping gerrymandering. That, she says, would force members to be accountable to their constituents--or risk defeat.

Josephson's solution? Make the lobbying process more public. Make sessions longer and include more public hearings, and hire more legislative staff.

"If you're going to have government, you need to give the appropriate tools and resources to get the job done right," he says.

"I don't want to cast stones as an outsider, but Arizona's had some real problems with governors and legislatures, and the fact is you need an environment that protects you against the negative influences that inevitably come when there's a lot of money and power to be had."

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: [email protected]times.com

Contact Patti Epler at her online address: [email protected]

super lobbyist (sooper lahbeeist) n.--An individual who conceives of, writes and pushes for legislation on behalf of a client or clients, usually business interests, at the Arizona Legislature. Also argues against legislation not favored by clients. Often distinguished from other lobbyists by representing many clients at once, on a contract basis. Power derives not only from their own contributions and gifts, but the promise of what their client base can pony up as well.

A look at some of Arizona's Super Lobbyists, their clients, and their contributions to statewide and legislative candidates during the 1998 campaign season:

Jim Bush and Michael Preston Green, Fennemore Craig. Bush gave $4,085. Green gave $8,235. Their firm's PAC gave $27,815 through its political action committee; its employees gave another $18,617. Some of the firm's clients and their contributions: ASARCO, PAC: $2,025; employees: $3,075; Anheuser-Busch, PAC: $16,625; employees: $250; Bank One, PAC: $36,850; employees, $1,286; Cyprus Metals, PAC: $17,265; employees, $1,435; Phelps Dodge, PAC: $27,880; employees: $12,430; Arizona Mining Association, PAC: $9,970; employees: $2,175; Arizona Restaurant Association, PAC: $13,100. In 1997, the firm spent $6,965 on entertainment for legislators. Reported expenses for 1998 total $1,948 through June.

Bob Fannin, Quarles and Brady. He's widely considered the most influential lobbyist at the Capitol. Fannin chaired then-governor Fife Symington's 1994 campaign committee and 1998 exploratory committee. He also chaired John Kaites' attorney general campaign committee. He gave $15,435 in direct and in-kind contributions. Quarles and Brady employees, other than Fannin, gave another $9,519. The firm's clients and their contributions: American Express Co., PAC: $3,610; employees, $3,110; American Greyhound Racing Inc., PAC: $3,625; employees, $1,325; American Insurance Association, PAC: $5,630; employees, $75; Arizona Diamondbacks, managing partner Jerry Colangelo: $6,405; employees, $14,525; Honeywell, PAC: $750; employees, $4,293; IBM: employees, $2,300. In 1997, Fannin's firm spent $2,011 on entertainment for legislators.

Don Isaacson, Ridge and Isaacson. Isaacson gave $9,801. His clients and their contributions: Arizona Association of Homes and Housing for the Aged, PAC: $950; Arizona Licensed Beverage Association, PAC: $24,551; employees, $1,325; Arizona Optometric Association, PAC: $10,250; employees, $525; Rural Metro Corp., PAC: $24,900; employees, $6,897; Tobacco Institute: $0; University of Phoenix/Apollo Group, PAC: $5,555; employees, $2,929. For 1997 and 1998, no significant expenditures for entertainment for legislators are on file.

David Kimball, Gallagher and Kennedy. Kimball gave $1,600. Gallagher and Kennedy's PAC gave $7,175. The firm's clients and their contributions: Arizona Chamber of Commerce, whose employees gave $3,837.50 individually; Arizona Rock Products Association, $16,325 in PAC contributions; its employees another $925. In 1997, the Arizona Rock Products Association spent $3,364 on a legislative golf tournament at the Arizona Biltmore. For 1997 and 1998, Kimball reported no significant entertainment expenditures.

John Mangum, Law Offices of John Mangum. He gave $12,167. His clients and their contributions: Philip Morris, PAC: $1,300; Arizona Contractors Association, PAC: $4,635; Eli Lilly & Co.: $0; Sumitomo Sitix, employees: $550; Turf Paradise, employees: $10,819; Xerox: $0; Walgreens: employees, $325. In 1997, Mangum spent $1,349 on entertainment for legislators. There were no records on file for 1998.

Allan Stanton. He gave $9,444. His clients and their contributions: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arizona, PAC: $3,995; employees, $8,630; Arizona Golf Association: $0; General Motors Corporation: employees, $560; Robson Communities, PAC: $2,115; employees, $28,415; Union Pacific Corporation, PAC: $4,050; employees, $125; Abbott Laboratories, employees: $50. In 1997, Stanton spent $10,687 on entertainment for legislators, including $1,225 for a Christmas lunch at Phoenix Country Club for House and Senate staff. Reported expenses for 1998 total $474 through June.

Charlie Stevens, Stevens and Leibow. He gave $7,870. His clients and their contributions: Arizona Cemetery Association, PAC: $400; employees, $25; Arizona Credit Union League, PAC: $2,425; employees, $230; Chevron: $0; Suncor Development Co. (Arizona Public Service Company subsidiary): employees, $3,735; Arizona Psychological Association, PAC: $2,050. For 1997 and 1998, no significant entertainment expenditures are on file.

Campaign finance data in this special report came from the Secretary of State's Office. Arizona State University professor Steven K. Doig, a Pulitzer Prize winner and computer-assisted reporting specialist, extracted contribution information from the database. New Times Associate Editor Patti Epler standardized and sorted the information, then computed totals for candidates, individuals and PACs.

This report reflects more than 50,000 contributions to statewide and legislative campaigns during the 1998 cycle. We included direct and in-kind contributions as well as loans from candidates, family members and others. We did not consider interest earned on accounts as contributions and we did not include money raised in previous campaigns and transferred to this cycle. Husbands and wives and some families are grouped as single contributors, particularly when all contributions came from the same address.

We found many inconsistencies and mistakes in the information being reported by candidates to the state, as well as in data about lobbyists maintained by the Secretary of State's Office. About 20 percent of the contributions have no employer or occupation information, as required.

--Patti Epler

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patti Epler
Contact: Patti Epler
Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.