Pay-to-play is alive and well at City Hall

Los Angeles Lobbyists Raked In $53 Million in 2015 As High-Priced Hired Guns

In Archive by Patrick Range McDonald

High-priced, politically influential lobbyists at L.A. City Hall raked in a staggering $53,361,184 in fees in 2015, according to city Ethics Commission records. The number of registered lobbying entities at L.A. City Hall has tripled in size compared to 2002 — an eye-popping 625 lobbyist groups.

Over the past 21 years, deep-pocketed developers in Los Angeles have increasingly come to believe that politically connected lobbyists are a pricey, but crucial part of doing business — and everyday Angelenos should be worried. Perhaps more than any neighborhood activist or community group, the City Hall lobbyist has an outsized influence in shaping our city’s land-use policy.

Lobbyists are hired by developers to convince City Council members and the mayor to bend existing city planning and land-use rules and approve such things as a zoning change, height district change or General Plan amendment for mega-projects that are too large for a neighborhood. Lobbyists usually come through, and developers love them — and spend major cash for their services.

In just one of many examples, CIM Group, a powerful, wealthy development firm in L.A., has spent $2,617,461 on lobbyists to curry favor with council members and city agencies over the years, according to the city’s Ethics Commission.

Some of the top lobbying firms for developers include Afriat Consulting Group, Liner LLP, Latham & Watkins, Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac and Marathon Communications.

But lobbying for developers wasn’t always a multi-million-dollar industry in L.A. That’s only happened somewhat recently.

In 1995, according to the Ethics Commission, 137 lobbyists reported fees of $3.6 million.

In 2002, 201 lobbyists reported fees of $16.4 million. In a press release, the Ethics Commission noted that figure broke a record in L.A. for the highest amount of lobbying fees, but only a handful of developers made up the Ethics Commission’s “top ten” list for companies that paid the most for lobbyists.

By 2015, things had changed dramatically.

In 2015, the number of registered lobbying entities at L.A. City Hall had tripled in size to an eye-popping 625, and lobbyists made a whopping grand total of $53,361,184, according to Ethics Commission records.

With inflation, $16.4 million in 2002 was worth $22 million in 2015. Lobbying money more than doubled at L.A. City Hall over a 13-year period, and developers or other entities looking to push forward development projects made up the vast majority of companies in the Ethics Commission’s quarterly “top ten” lobbying lists.

Oddly, the Ethics Commission doesn’t provide a year-end report on lobbying money, but offers quarterly reports. Add up those totals, and you get shocking numbers.

So with the rise of City Hall lobbyists also came the rise of deep-pocketed developers willing to pay millions for insider political access. And since Ethics Commission records show that developers have been paying for high-priced lobbyists for years, clearly developers believe that lobbyists are getting results.

After all, developers like billionaire Rick Caruso are looking for king-sized profits. They’re not going to throw their money at something that’s not working — Caruso has spent huge sums on lobbyists.

There is no question about it: Money does buy political favors and access in Los Angeles.

Enough is enough. We need to reform L.A.’s broken planning and land-use system, which is what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will do. In fact, the Los Angeles Times, the L.A. City Council, Mayor Eric Garcetti and numerous neighborhood groups all agree that reform is desperately needed.

Join our citywide, grassroots movement by clicking here right now to donate any amount you wish, and follow and cheer our efforts on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can also send us an email at for more information.

Developers and their politician pals will do anything to defeat our reform movement and continue their wrong-headed policies. But together, we, the citizens, can create the change that L.A. needs!