Longform

The Law of the Land

Page 3 of 6

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."

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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.