From her office window in downtown Sacramento, Bev Hansen can look across L Street to the neoclassic Capitol building, the seat of government for a state with 38 million residents and the world's eighth-largest economy.
Hansen, a former Republican assemblywoman from Santa Rosa, left her lawmaker's seat 21 years ago, but still values her view of who's coming and going from the building where California's laws are made.
News reports make that process seem the work of a governor and 120 elected legislators.
But that's ignoring the role of a well-financed army of 1,500 registered lobbyists paid by more than 3,700 organizations -- including businesses, trade groups and local government agencies -- to protect and enhance their interests.
Four of the busiest lobbying firms have North Bay connections. Hansen's firm stands atop the heap, with $12.8 million in payments during the 2011-12 legislative session.
Overall, about 400 lobbying firms reported more than $345 million in payments. Ninety-one firms received more than $1 million; 126 firms got less than $100,000.
The three biggest spenders on lobbying were the California State Council of Service Employees, Western States Petroleum Association and California Teachers Association, at more than $8 million each.
Winning the money race "doesn't make me happy," said Hansen, a co-founder and partner at Lang, Hansen, O'Malley & Miller Governmental Relations. "Our goal is to get results for our clients."
Any lobbying firm is "always a client or two away" from losing its financial supremacy, she said, and Hansen's firm has some big-spending clients.
Hollywood Park Racing Association, Citizens for Fire Safety Institute (representing manufacturers of toxic flame retardants) and Altria Client Services (representing the Philip Morris tobacco company) each paid Lang Hansen $600,000 or more, according to lobbying financial disclosure reports to the state.