Now we know how Santa Claus feels. Making these types
of lists is not easy. But we checked it once, checked
it twice, checked who was naughty and nice – the former outweighed the latter -- and came up with our latest Capitol Weekly Top 100 list.
We’ve learned some lessons putting together this list
and found some holes in our own knowledge of the major
players in California politics. Here’s the most important thing we found: Assembling this list was an exercise in weighing egos,
ideology and long-held assumptions with the reality of power. In the
end, this list is about power.
This annual list is meant to be dynamic – with wild changes from one year to the next. We make
no apologies: We want our readers to be able to look at this rundown
and from it get a good sense of what is going on right
now in the world of California politics, of who’s doing what to whom.
The list reflects a campaign season in full swing.
But far more importantly, it reflects the transition
under way in Sacramento, with a lame-duck governor whose influence is on the wane.
As with previous lists, we’ve excluded elected officials from our rundown. And
in our review of last year’s roster, we decided to cut back on a certain category
of power player – the power player with a big bank account who has the
ability to impact state policy and politics with a
single check. There are too many of these figures sprinkled
throughout our state to put them all on this list.
But we did make exceptions for those who have decided
to use their financial resources to play major roles
in California politics this year.
As always, we invite criticism – constructive or otherwise – with the list we’ve assembled. And we invite you to tell us, calmly
and reasonably -- or otherwise – who we missed and why they should be on our list next
This week, we’re publishing numbers 51-100 – the bottom half of our list. Next week, we’ll publish the second half, so be sure to stay tuned.
So, without further ado, the envelopes please…
51. Parke Skelton, SG&A Campaigns, The Los Angeles-based Parke Skelton pops up everywhere all the time
in legislative campaigns, but despite his success rate
and his energy level, he flies under the radar of many
political observers. In the cynical world of political
campaigning, Skelton is something of a rarity: He’s a progressive Democrat with a high dose of ideological
purity who has taken on chores for top Democratic leaders
– including L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass – but who also handles new contenders hoping to make
their way up.
52. George Skelton
Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton gets covered
with praise or hung in effigy, depending on his latest
column, but virtually everybody who watches California
politics reads him regularly. Partly, that’s because he works for the L.A.Times, which carries
a cachet even in a world overrun by mouthy, Internet-based pundits. But mostly it’s because his passion for accuracy and analysis shine
through in every column.
53. Dan Walters For three decades, Dan Walters’ column has been a must-read for elected officials, staffers, lobbyists, the
statewide political media and, last but not least,
the public. Dan, who often uses his column to break
stories, is a reporter’s reporter and happily takes on everyone, left and
right, but mostly left, to the outrage of many Democrats.
He pulls no punches, doesn’t lob soft balls to sweeten sources and happily sees
politics as blood sport and high entertainment. Bravo.
54. Joe Edmiston, executive director, Santa Monica Mountains
Conservancy Every time we try to keep Joe Edmiston off the list,
he keeps popping back on. Edmiston is one of the most
influential people in California, a master bureaucrat,
because he knows how to work political money and political
power – which are often the same. He’s firmly lodged in his empire at the Conservancy, an
empire based at least in part on land acquisition and
55. Peter Douglas, California Coastal Commission. Peter Douglas, like Edmiston, is a master bureaucrat
and a power to be reckoned with in the halls of government.
Few people in California have made as many enemies
as Douglas. At the Coastal Commission, enemies seem
to spring from the ground, if not the sea – and you can chalk up another one for each decision
that goes against an affluent property owner who wants
an ocean view. But under Douglas’ management the Commission has earned an enviable national
reputation as a coastal watchdog. And even governors
are leery of messing with CC’s budget.
56. Nancy McFadden, senior vice president, Pacific Gas
& Electric Company. Nancy McFadden’s title is fancy – senior VP of PG&E and special adviser to the head of PG&E Corp. – but what she really does is direct PG&E’s state, local and federal government relations. That
takes in a lot of political territory. A couple of
years ago, she played a pivotal role to block an attempt
by Yolo County residents to join the Sacramento Municipal
Utility District. This year, she’s quarterbacking PG&E’s effort in Proposition 16 to make it harder for any locals to form their own
utility district or hook up with an existing one. McFadden,
a former top official in Gov. Gray Davis’ administration, doesn’t want to lose any ratepayers, and they’re spreading plenty of money around to both parties
to enlist all the help they can get.
57. Rick Caruso, L.A. developer Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso has proven his ability
and willingness to play both sides of the political
aisle. He has given money to Gov. Schwarzenegger and
raised eyebrows when he decided to host a fundraiser
for Democrat Jerry Brown. And if he plays his cards
right, he just might be the next mayor of Los Angeles.
Caruso is the latest in a line of moderate Republicans
looking to forge a pro-business coalition to lead Los Angeles. In the meantime,
Caruso is sewing the seeds for a run by spreading some
of his significant political capital around.
58. Darius Anderson, Platinum Advisors When Gray Davis was recalled
in 2003, insiders believed the role of insider-lobbyist Darius Anderson would be diminished. But Anderson,
now based in San Francisco, remains a major force in
the lobbying world, in part because of his close relationship
to Susan Kennedy, who served Davis in a top position
and is Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff. He’s also a major land developer, and he has lobbied CalPERS
on behalf of a client who landed a $25 million investment. The CalPERS role raised eyebrows
because the client, Markstone Capital, was founded
by a businessman who stepped down after pleading guilty
to pension fraud in New York. (Update: This week, Anderson agreed to a $500,000 fine in connection with the New York influence-peddling investigation.) 59. Scott McDonald, Woodward McDowell Scott McDonald is a key political strategist for Woodward
McDowell, the Burlingame-based communications firm that seems to be involved
in every major business-driven push against or around environmental rules.
For one thing, he is an architect of the AB 32 Implementation Group, which despite its title is critical
of California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law. McDonald played
a role in the most important environmental legislation
of 2009, which gave L.A.-area air-quality regulators the right to resume distributing
air-emission credits. That plan, denounced by environmentalists
and fought in court, was viewed as a major victory
60. Jay Hansen, legislative director of the Building
and Construction Trades Council Jay Hansen is the BCTC’s political point man and is in the top tier of players
representing organized labor – a key position in any year, but especially critical
this year in the high-stakes gubernatorial election where labor is all but
certain to play a decisive role. Hansen, who has powerful
political antenna, is at or near the center of every
major labor-linked political strategy decision in California.
61. Harvey Rosenfield, Consumer Watchdog Harvey Rosenfield – attorney, consumer advocate and thorn in the side
of insurers from California to Washington, D.C. – is a former Nader’s Raider who now heads Consumer Watchdog, the Santa
Monica-based group that goes after insurance companies and
others on behalf of consumers. Rosenfield, whose group
has a hefty dose of trial-bar funding, is a major California political player
and a deft handler of the media. He wrote Proposition
103, the landmark ballot initiative that voters approved
in 1988 to outlaw discriminatory practices by the insurance
62. Brian Kelly,
policy adviser to Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg When it comes to the power players in “the building,” Brian Kelly is at or near the top of everybody’s list. The detail-driven Kelly used to handle transportation issues specifically,
but he has since branched out to become the Senate
leader’s top policy person.
63. Rick Simpson, adviser to Assembly Speaker John Perez In the world of term limits, senior Capitol staffers
become more important. And staffers like Rick Simpson,
who has been in the Assembly dating back to Willie
Brown’s speakership, has been a fixture in the Building for
more than two decades. And good thing, too. He’s one of the only people left who actually understand
the state’s increasingly complicated system of education finance,
which makes up about half of the state’s overall general fund budget.
64. Jeff Kightlinger, general counsel and chief executive
officer, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
In the world of water politics, Jeff Kightlinger is
a major player but he could walk unrecognized down
a corridor in the state Capitol. The MWD – also known as the Met – is the water wholesaler for almost all of Southern
California, and that means that Kightlinger is at the
center of power over California’s single most important commodity. His decisions and
recommendations affect nearly half of California’s population.
65. Jason Kinney, partner, California Strategies There is perhaps no better example of the next generation
of California political powerbrokers than Jason Kinney.
With close ties to several top Democrats, including
Gavin Newsom and Darrell Steinberg, Kinney remains
close to Democratic power in Sacramento. Kinney also
advises some of the Capitol’s most influential interests, including AT&T and numerous healthcare clients. But as a political
adviser rather than a registered lobbyist, we’re never quite sure exactly what he’s up to or who he’s representing.
66. Mark Macarro, Pechanga Band of Lusieno Indians Macarro was the face that helped sell tribal gaming
to California voters more than a decade ago. He became
the spokesman for the Proposition 5 and Proposition 1A campaigns., which helped change tribal and California
While tribal issues have ebbed in importance inside
the Legislature, Macarro and Pechanga remain active
in state and local politics, and are still a viable
67. Richard Milanovich, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Orgainzed labor’s influence is well documented. So when new compacts
for some of the state’s largest gaming tribes came before the Legislature
a couple of years ago, many Democrats were forced to
decide between two sets of loyal friends. It is a testament
to the power of tribes like Agua Caliente that the
compacts were ultimately approved, over the wishes
of many big wigs in the labor movement. And the show
of force remains a reminder that Agua Caliente, and
its chairman, is that rarest of Capitol breeds -a reservoir of political power at its disposal.
68. Rose Ann DeMoro, California Nurses Association The nurses have built the reputation of being one of
the most aggressive labor groups in the state. Since
taking an aggressive stance against the 2005 special election in California, CNA has remained a
loud, progressive voice inside the world of labor.
As they build a national organization, CNA is no longer
just a bunch of rabble-rousers. They’ve followed up their energetic campaigns with real
money in recent years, and DeMoro has been at the heart
of the effort.
69. David Quintana, California Tribal Business Alliance Almost from scratch, Quintana has helped build the
California Tribal Business Alliance into a force in
Capitol politics. Conceived as a coalition of tribal
governments that took a less combative approach to
issues of sovereignty, Quintana’s propensity for deal making has miffed some who have
gotten in his way, but he has steadily grown the power
and influence of CTBA inside the Capitol. 70. Adam Mendelsohn, partner, Mercury Public Affairs For the last three years, Mendelsohn has been the political
arm of the Arnold Schwarzenegger operation. This year,
in that capacity, he is girding for three more battles
– the fight to change the state’s primary system, and the battle to save the governor’s greenhouse gas law and redistricting initiative.
In the meantime, Mendelsohn has laid the foundation
for a firm to live on after the Schwarzenegger meal
ticket leves down, forging a bipartisan alliance with
former Speaker Fabian Nuñez to prepare Mercury for the next phase. 71. Liz Snow, California Building Industry Association Mea culpa, mea culpa. Among the many things we heard
about last year’s list was the fact that we overlooked Snow’s influence in California politics. Since then, Snow
has left her perch as the head of the California Dental
Association PAC to perform the same job for CBIA. While
the PAC may not have the same reach as the dental PAC,
its resources are not insignificant. And with Snow
at the helm, the safe money is on Snow raising the
PAC’s profile in the years to come.
72. Bill Burke, chairman, South Coast Air Quality Management
District Bill Burke is proof of an increasingly true axiom in
state politics – more and more power is moving to the permanent bureaucracy.
Through his positions on the California Coastal Commission
and South Coast Air Quality Management District, Burke
remains a clandestine but unmistakable force in the
Capitol. Whether it’s getting a bill jammed through the Legislature to
extend his term on the air board or orchestrating an
11th-hour deal involving air emission credits, Burke may
not be a visible presence in Sacramento, but his fingerprints
are all over the place.
73. Deborah Gonzalez, California Dental Association Gonzalez
was the Capitol’s policy guru for Republicans, arguably since her time
in Speaker Curt Pringle’s office. Gonzalez left the Capitol last year to take
over the political operations of the California Dental
Assocaition, one of the state’s most active PACs, as was evidenced in the recent
fight to elect Bill Emmerson to the Senate. Whether
or not Gonzalez will have the influence and control
over the PAC that her predecessor, Liz Snow, had remains
to be seen, but if past experience is any guide, we
wouldn’t bet against her ability to remain a powerhouse in
state politics in her new position.
74. Yvonne Walker, president SEIU Local 1000 In California and nationally, SEIU remains an organization
in the throes of transition. Amid the turmoil, Walker
head of the largest state employee union -- an increasingly difficult task as the state continues
to wrestle with deep budget deficits. Walker and her
union have led the charge against the governor’s furlough plans, and remain a visible symbol of labor’s continued power in the Capitol.
75. Tom Hiltachk, managing partner, Bell, McAndrews and
Hiltachk Republican legal guru Tom Hiltachk is one of a handful
of political attorneys in the state who are players
in that world where law and politics come together.
He’s the legal adviser to the California Republican Party,
he regularly challenges Democrats before the Fair Political
Practices Commission, and he fights Democrats’ ballot initiatives – for starters. He advises GOP office holders and political
With partners Chuck Bell and Colleen Andrews, Hiltachk
is a potent GOP force.
76. Dan Weitzman, Democratic fundraiser As the top fundraiser for both Senate leader Darrell
Steinberg and Speaker John Perez, Weitzman remains
the main conduit between the Capitol Democrats and
the donor community. While fundraising among members
is less centralized than it used to be, Weitzman has
retained his importance and influence through three
consecutive speakers. 77. Richard Mersereau, policy director, Assembly Republican
Caucus Leaders may come and go, but Richard Mersereau, it
appears, is here to stay. As the policy director for
the Assembly Republican Caucus, Mersereau has served
as the loyal opposition as the revolving door spins
in the Republican leader’s office. While Democrats have held a comfortable majority
in the house for years, Mersereau has kept Republicans
on task and on message with a deep knowledge of policy
and a work ethic celebrated by his colleagues.
78. Moira Topp, lobbyist, Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates Topp cut her teeth inside the Capitol -- both on the legislative side and inside Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger’s administration. After a stint as the Chamber of Commerce’s lobbyist on transporation and environmental issues,
she joined the super firm of Sloat Higgins Jensen,
one of the top billing lobbying firms in the state.
The firm’s client list reads like a who’s who of Republican interests and local governments,
with a few major businesses thrown in for good measure.
And when it comes to anything involving environmental
or transportation policy, Topp is inevitably in the
thick of the fight.
79. David Townsend, Townsend Raimundo Bessler and Usher Townsend has carved out a niche helping business-friendly Democrats and some not so Democrat-friendly businesses over the years. But he has used
that leverage as the Democrats’ middle-man to carve out a heck of a business for himself.
Currently, Townsend is leading PG&E’s efforts to limit the expansion of publicly owned
utilities on the June ballot. Townsend is also a consigliare
for Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and numerous other
pols throughout the state. 80. V. John White, executive director, Center for Energy
Efficiency and Renewable Technologies If it involves energy, any kind of energy, V. John
White, either knows about it, has something to do with
it, or is lobbying for or against it. His specialty
is renewable and alternative energy, and as California
expands its renewable portfolio, “V. John” is at the center of the action.
81. Barry Broad, lobbyist, Teamsters Public Affairs Council, and others If there were extra points for literary prowess, Broad
would shoot to the top of this list. As it stands,
Broad is a constant in the labor community -- but not always in lock step with Democratic Party
insiders. With clients ranging from the Teamsters to
podiatrists to scientists to jockeys, not to mention
several powerful public employee unions, Broad is often
an outspoken voice on key Capitol issues. He’s also finishing up a second novel, a follow up to
“Eve of Destruction”— reportedly dreamed up while he was sitting through
a particularly boring legislative hearing.
82. Lisa Gasperoni, adviser to Senate Leader Darrell
Steinberg As Darrell Steinberg’s political brain, Lisa Gasperoni has one of the Capitol’s most thankless jobs. Senate Democrats face up to
four tough races in the fall -- two seats that they will have to defend, and two more
they will try to snatch from Republicans. Gasperoni
has had to build an operation without much of the big
labor money that Senate Democrats have banked on in
the past, not to mention what promises to be a challenging
environment for Democrats this fall.
83. Alice Huffman, president, California NAACP Huffman has maintained her influence as the keeper
of one of the most coveted political endorsements in
the state. As head of the state NAACP, Huffman has
weighed in on a variety of issues from public power
to redistricting, and has shown a willingness to buck
the party line in the process.
84. Jim Brulte, partner, California Strategies As a former Republican leader of both the Assembly
and the Senate, Jim Brulte continues to play the role
of informal adviser to a number of politicians around
the state. As part of the California Strategies super
firm, Brulte wields power quietly and, at times, remotely.
But with the ear of some of the state’s top Republican politicians, plus a reputation as
a deal-maker among Democrats, Brulte is one of the few pols
who has retained influence after his legislative power
85. Roger Salazar, partner, Acosta/Salazar Since joining forces with Andrew Acosta in 2005, Salazar and his firm have steadily risen up the ranks
of Democratic consultants and strategists. A veteran
of the Gray Davis administration and the Clinton White
House, Salazar now is the “outside” communications consultant for Speaker John Perez,
and for a new labor-backed independent expenditure committee that has pledged
millions to help Jerry Brown.
86. Paula Treat, lobbyist, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians As the chief lobbyist for the Pechanga Band and director
of their political action committee, Treat continues
to wield influence inside the building. But beyond
just her client list -- which also includes Edison International, Treat’s institutional knowledge -- not to mention her ability to spin a good political
war story -- gives her influence beyond her clientele.
87. Amy Brown, partner, DiMare Van Vleck and Brown With a background in local government issues, Brown
has become one of the Capitol’s top voices on retirement and pension issues. Her
firm boasts a diverse client list that includes business
giants like Safeway, the California Medical Assocaition,
local water boards, Indian tribes and local governments.
88. Soyla Fernandez, lobbyist, Fernandez Government Solutions Somehow, when the end of session comes around, Soyla
Fernandez seems to be everywhere. As a solo operator
in her own lobbying firm, Fernandez’s clients include Capitol giants like Southern California
Edison and Verizon.
89. Jeanne Cain, executive vice president, California
Chamber of Commerce Jeanne Cain is the chairwoman of the multibillion-dollar State Compensation Insurance Fund and she’s the executive vice president of the California Chamber
of Commerce. She wears other hats as well, but those
two are enough: She knows the Capitol landscape and she’s been a business-friendly warrior on any number of political issues
over the past decade. Her tenure at SCIF hasn’t been without controversy: She’s riding herd on a widely reported internal investigation
involving the actions and potential conflicts of past
executives. SCIF is probably the largest, most obscure
entity in state government. The cliché, “powerful but obscure” applies here.
90. Charles Munger Perhaps nobody is causing more heartache for Speaker
Nancy Pelosi than Charles Munger. The Stanford scientist
and son of the Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway has made it his mission
to take drawing Congressional districts out of the
hands of the Legislature. He has dedicated millions
to qualifying a measure for the November ballot to
do just that. Congressional Democrats, fearing their
incumbency threatened, have responded in kind with
millions of their own.
91. Scott Wetch, partner, Carter Wetch and Associates Wetch is the go-to person for the pipe trades and electrical workers
unions, among a host of other clients. His unions have
gone contrary to many other powerful labor groups on
key issues like the implementation of the state’s greenhouse gas law. Wetch was also instrumental in
holding Democrats’ feet to the fire on the recent fight over renewable
energy standards, despite intense pressure from the
governor’s office. Wetch was also hired by developer Ed Roski
to help earn support from labor-friendly Democrats for a plan to build an NFL stadium
in Los Angeles County.
92. Donne Brownsey, Sacramento Advocates Brownsey is a Capitol trailblazer. A former Capitol
super-staffer for Senate Democrats, she became one of the
first women to run her own lobbying firm, she joined
forces with Barry Brokaw’s Sacramento Advocates. Brownsey was in the thick of
last year’s water negotiations and represents a host of diverse
clients inside the Capitol.
93. Maggie Linden, Ogilvy Public Affairs After serving three different Assembly Speakers, Linden
was recruited by Ogilvy to help build their Sacramento
practice. For the last several years, Ogilvy has kept
busy fighting off ballot-box efforts to require minors to notify their parents
before receiving an abortion. Ogilvy has also been
at the center of the effort to promote the state’s new redistricting law, which is facing a possible
repeal at the ballot box this November.
94. Dan Morain, senior editor, Sacramento Bee Morain’s resignation from the Los Angeles Times left a gaping
hole in the Capitol press corps. He had carved out
a niche as the best reporter on politics and money
in the state, and handled tribal gaming and a host
of other issues. After a brief experiment as a PR flack,
Morain is back with the Sacramento Bee as a columnist.
His columns are still anchored in solid reporting and
as he continues to find his voice as a columnist, his
influence in the state will only increase.
95. Mike Madrid Over the last several years, Madrid has quietly helped
make local government a force in statewide politics.
Madrid helped build the battle plan for what became
Proposition 1A, which limited the state’s ability to take revenues earmarked for local governments.
This year, the League of Cities and other locals are
back to renegotiate the deal they made with the voters,
asking for a stronger wall around local government
96. Karen Skelton, Dewey Square Group Skelton made her mark in Washington as a confidant
to Al Gore. But as the head of Dewey’s California operation, Skelton has built a practice
with close ties to First Lady Maria Shriver. The firm
also has close ties to the state labor federation,
thanks to Steve Smith, another Dewey principal who
brings hard-nosed California campaign experience to the firm.
97. Christy Bouma, Capitol Connection Bouma is a force in labor politics, which makes her
a force inside the capitol. As the chief advocate for
the California Professional Firefighters,
Bouma has been in the center of some of the major fights
inside the Capitol in recent years. And as election
season ramps up, the influence of the firefighters
is only going to increase. As head of her own firm,
Capitol Connection, Bouma also works on behalf of the
school employees association and Altria.
98. Jodi Hicks, California Medical Association When Dustin Corcoran was promoted to CEO of the California
Medical Association, Hicks took control of the governmental
affairs shop of one of the most powerful associations
in the state, and is the first woman to hold the post,
which makes her a key player in state politics. Hicks
and her team wield influence over a variety of healthcare
issues inside the Capitol.
99. Haim Saban, investment
banker The creator of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers once said he was a “one-issue guy” when it came to politics. Who knew that issue was
redistricting? Saban, a former member of the UC Board
of Regents, has been a consistent Democratic donor,
but rose to mega-donor status this month when he chipped in $2 million at the behest of Congressional leaders to
fight changes in the state’s redistricting law. 100. Kassy Perry, Perry Communications Perry’s firm remains one of the top PR firms in California
politics. The firm’s bread and butter is representing companies and organization
involved in health care -- including PhRMA, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Merck
-- which is sure to continue as a top issue in coming
years. Their highest profile recent effort, however,
was not related to health care: They came in at the last minute to try to help save
the failed No on Proposition 8 campaign. But no one seems to be holding that against