James Michael Agpalo, an intern lobbyist, views the state Senate Appropriations Committee session on suspense file day at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Sept. 1, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

I’m CalMatters Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal, in for Lynn.

You can call it advocacy, or influence peddling or the more neutral lobbying. But whatever the name, it can help determine the fate of key legislation — and it’s a big business at the state Capitol.

How big?

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, more than $358 million was spent by nearly 4,000 companies, organizations and local governments to lobby California’s government. That’s a slight increase from the $333 million during the same nine months in 2022.

CalMatters data journalist Jeremia Kimelman analyzed the numbers for the past legislative session and also found:

  • Chevron Corp. ($10 million) and the Western States Petroleum Association ($5.3 million) spent the most on lobbying. For the past four legislative sessions, they were among the top three lobbying spenders. Among the bills they lobbied on: a “windfall profit” tax on the oil industry that was watered down.
  • The third highest spender was the Hawaiian Gardens Casino in Los Angeles County at $5.1 million, far more than the roughly $120,000 a year it spent in recent legislative sessions. This year, it lobbied on bills regulating card rooms.
  • And the fourth biggest spender was McDonald’s at nearly $5 million, focusing on a bill to raise wages for fast-food workers. The industry and unions eventually agreed to a deal to increase the minimum wage to $20 an hour next April. 
  • Since January, 33 companies have spent more than $2 million to lobby the powerful California Public Utilities Commission. It recently allowed “robotaxis” to operate in San Francisco, then reversed itself after a crash.

For more details on what was spent on lobbying, read Jeremia’s story.

It’s not just industry groups and unions spending money to win over lawmakers and policymakers.  

As CalMatters has detailed, local governments use their taxpayers’ money to lobby the Legislature and state agencies, often on policy but sometimes for more tax money. As of early August, local governments, water districts and transit agencies had spent nearly $24 million, about 10% of the total. That analysis showed that some smaller local governments hire lobbying firms to represent them, but they don’t always know the specific legislation. 

Another CalMatters analysis this year looked into trips by legislators paid for by special interest groups — and the lack of transparency. Since a law took effect in 2016, disclosure forms have been filed for only two events — despite legislators reporting millions of dollars in sponsored travel and dozens of trips during that period. One form was filed last year and the second only after CalMatters made inquiries.   

CalMatters commentary is now California Voices, with its first issue page focusing on homelessness. Give it a look. Editor Yousef Baig will be hosting a virtual event 11 a.m. to noon on Nov. 14 on how to pitch a commentary piece. Register here.

The human toll of EDD failure

Patti and Glen Balogh hold a photo of their late son, Shane Balogh, at their home in Garden Grove, on July 19, 2023. Photo by Julie A Hotz for CalMatters
Patti and Glen Balogh hold a photo of their late son, Shane Balogh, at their home in Garden Grove, on July 19, 2023. Photo by Julie A Hotz for CalMatters

From CalMatters investigative reporter Lauren Hepler:

Lost homes. Drained life savings. Impossible choices between going into debt or caring for loved ones.

These were some of the impacts felt by Californians ensnared in mass unemployment delays at the California Employment Development Department during the pandemic.

In Orange County, one family has been on a particularly painful quest to understand how their youngest son’s struggle to get answers about his EDD claim might have contributed to his final weeks.

Shane Balogh died by suicide three days before his 29th birthday in June 2020, after his traveling sales job disappeared with pandemic shutdown orders. According to his phone records, he called the EDD dozens of times, while screenshots on his phone show $11,700 was locked away in his unemployment account.

His parents see the financial stress of the delayed payments as one catalyst for a “crisis of hope,” along with COVID isolation and bigger concerns about the state of the world.

Glen Balogh, Shane’s dad: “People needed help, and my son needed help. To me, you failed him. And that’s something that we can’t get back.”

The EDD declined to comment on Shane’s story. Public data requested by CalMatters shows that the agency’s phone operators reported 483 threats of self-harm from March 2020 through December 2022.

The question now: Will the EDD’s five-year, $1.2 billion plan to fix the system pan out before the next jobs crisis?

Read the entire CalMatters investigation here. And if you’ve applied for benefits from the EDD or another California state agency, share your experience with us here.

Released from prison, then deported

Ramon Ruelas at his home in Mexicali, Mexico on Oct. 12, 2023. After nearly a decade behind bars in California prisons, Ruelas was granted parole in 2019, but was later deported to Mexico where he was born. Photo by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

Ramon Ruelas’ 5-week-old daughter is the reason he wants to return to California. 

The formerly incarcerated 33-year-old Mexicali resident has been barred from living in the U.S. with his family since 2020, when California officials freed him from prison but then handed him to federal immigration officials, who deported him to the country he’d left at age 9. 

  • Ruelas: “A kid needs her family together. A broken family has terrible circumstances for a kid. And I know that.” 

Justo Robles of CalMatters’ California Divide team tells his story, but Ruelas is only one of more than 5,700 formerly incarcerated California immigrants who have been delivered to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents since 2019. 

California’s sanctuary law prohibits local law enforcement agencies from using resources to investigate, detain, report or arrest people for immigration violations. It also sets as “safe” spaces schools, health facilities, and courthouses.

But the state has said it is bound by other laws to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE.

In August, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California alleged that state prison officials reported inmates to ICE upon their release based on assumptions about their names, country of birth and the language they spoke. In some cases, the report said, inmates were held beyond their release dates for ICE. 

Legislation to address access to inmates by ICE has failed. The Legislature this year passed the HOME Act, authored by Los Angeles Democratic Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, which would bar the department from sharing information or coordinating transfers with ICE for anyone who benefited from recent resentencing and compassionate release reforms. 

Newsom vetoed the HOME Act, saying the bill would impede the corrections department’s interactions with a federal agency.

Read more about the issue and Ruela in Justo’s story

The state of CA young workers

Alexis Reyna, 20, works at Chalio Mexican Restaurant in East Los Angeles on May 26, 2021. Photo by Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

The assumption is that you start in a low-paying job, and work your way up to better pay and conditions.

But a report released today by the UCLA Labor Center shows that many young workers — those 16 to 24 — get stuck in low-wage jobs with long hours for years, reports Alejandra Reyes-Velarde of CalMatters’ California Divide team. 

These hardships may impact their financial future and the state’s economy for years to come, said the researchers, who examined the years around the COVID-19 pandemic, 2019 to 2021.

There are about 2 million young workers in California — about 12% of the total workforce. About half are in school, and 3 in 4 are people of color. More than half are Latino. 

Young workers often work in the service industry at bars, restaurants and in retail, and the number who come from households under the poverty line exceed the state average. 

The data concerned researchers, who say it’s setting workers up for inequities in the future.

  • UCLA researcher Vivek Ramakrishnan: “When you have these skill sets that are hyper-specific toward these industries, and not much room for growth, it’s hard to compete against students who may take an unpaid internship in a very content-specific area of expertise and gain connections in the career they want to go into.”

Read more from Alejandra about what the researchers found.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Some governors leave office on a high note, others with disdain. A new poll suggests Gavin Newsom may be in the second group.

Gov. Newsom’s $361 million plan to “transform” San Quentin State Prison into a rehabilitation center seemingly overlooks the existing problems with the prison’s infrastructure, writes Kevin D. Sawyer, an award-winning incarcerated journalist and former associate editor of San Quentin News. 

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

Actors’ union committee approves deal with studios to end strike // Los Angeles Times

Shasta County holds tense special election under state monitors // Sacramento Bee

Newsom to host Biden, Harris for $3M fundraiser in San Francisco // Politico

Biden support drops in CA, but he still tops Trump, poll shows // Los Angeles Times

Can CA members of Congress win votes with spending bills? // Sacramento Bee

Cruise recalls driverless vehicles over software issue // Wall Street Journal

CA can’t require a warning label on Roundup, court rules // San Francisco Chronicle

Paul Kessler died protesting in support of Israel. What really happened? // Los Angeles Times

Nextdoor slashes 25% of staff in latest SF tech layoffs:  // San Francisco Standard

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions: commentary@calmatters.org

Sameea Kamal is a reporter at CalMatters covering the state Capitol and California politics. She joined CalMatters in June 2021 from the Los Angeles Times, where she was a News Desk editor. Sameea was...