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Morain: Sacramento's wayward money machine

  • This artwork by Michael Osbun relates to the financing of political campaigns.

Lobbyist Kevin Sloat, the latest Sacramento insider to be outed by his own hubris, apparently thought he needed an edge, whether he did or not.

A veteran of more than two decades in politics, Sloat built one of the most prominent lobby operations in town, not to mention a fancy mansion, created to host lavish fundraisers for legislators and other high officials.

His driveway was carved so as to park multiple cars for his catered soirees. He poured wine, cognac and Scotch that cost hundreds of dollars a bottle, and handed out expensive cigars. Sloat, Higgins, Jensen & Associates became the sixth largest billing lobby firm in town, with $13.5 million in receipts since 2011, and $50 million since 2000.

The Fair Political Practices Commission will vote this week whether to fine Sloat $133,500 for violating the Political Reform Act of 1974 by exceeding limits on the value of gifts lobbyists are permitted to give to legislators and failing to disclose non-monetary campaign contributions in the form of providing the venue for lawmakers' fundraisers.

He and his firm will survive, alter their practices, probably, and pay the penalty, a cost of doing business.

But there is a troubling context for this case, coming as it does when one senator is under FBI scrutiny and another remains in office despite having been convicted of felony charges of lying about where he resided.

Sloat's case is another facet of the impact of money on policymaking, policymakers and the people who enable them. Although part of what he did apparently crossed lines, much of it was perfectly legal, all part of the culture. The story is told in records of campaign donations, the FPPC complaint and a suit by a spurned employee. Sloat didn't talk; he faces various proceedings.

For all his connections and clout, Sloat is, like all members of the Third House, a middleman. He was a go-between, shuttling among his clients, a telecom giant, a huge pharmaceutical corporation, an electricity utility, and other big shots and legislators. He served all of them well.

He made sure that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg could get his hands on hard-to-get tickets for the 49ers playoff game against the New York Giants in 2012, plus field passes. The 49ers, one of Sloat's clients then, made the tickets available. It was perfectly legal because Steinberg paid for them.

Later that year, the National Football League franchise used Sloat's shop to persuade lawmakers to introduce legislation that helped cement the deal for the 49ers' new $1.3 billion football stadium in Santa Clara County. The 49ers' ownership, after paying $567,845 to Sloat's firm in the past three years, announced on Friday it was ending its relationship with Sloat; it got what it paid for.


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