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Some enterprises signal what’s going on inside by hanging a red light outside. Mayor Jerry Sanders has revealed what’s going on inside his administration by setting up a group of committees to carry out his goals. Officially, the name is “Mayor’s Civic Leadership 2009–2012.” It should be named “San Diego Belongs to the Lobbyists.”

Verily, the Sanders committees are so loaded with registered lobbyists — mainly working for the real estate development industry — that there should no longer be any doubt about who runs the City.

There are 51 members of committees pushing community projects such as a new stadium for the Chargers. Of those, no fewer than 20 are registered lobbyists. (Some serve on more than one committee.) And those who aren’t registered lobbyists are long-term corporate-welfare mendicants. Most significantly, I don’t see even token representatives from community planning and environmental groups, or even labor. “In other cities, these committees are balanced; they put environmentalists on them, union people. I don’t see that in this town,” says activist Mel Shapiro.

Councilmember Donna Frye, political scientist Steve Erie, and former state legislator Jim Mills express the same sentiment: Sanders’s committees are almost wholly made up of downtown boosters who want to use taxpayer money to pay for splendiferous structures instead of repairing the rotting infrastructure or helping the needy. Redevelopment, which was intended for truly blighted areas, “has been totally subverted to corporate welfare,” says Erie, a professor at the University of California at San Diego. Other California cities use redevelopment funds for “affordable housing, undeveloped neighborhoods — for public purposes. As the City’s financial situation becomes ever more precarious, the grandiose plans of downtown boosters grow ever greater.”

And that’s what Mayor Sanders’s committees are all about: grandiose structures such as a football stadium and convention-center expansion that line the pockets of real estate developers and their lobbyists while stealing money that should be used on necessities.

Observe the mayor’s committees. One of them is devoted to studying a new civic center, which the mayor is pushing. There are 13 people on the committee. Nine are registered lobbyists.

Here are the lobbyists and their affiliations:

• Sherm Harmer, chairman of Urban Housing Partners, whose clients include downtown’s struggling Smart Corner and Navarra Property Management. Harmer is a longtime leader of the Downtown Residential Marketing and Builders Alliance.

• Shirley Horton, former state legislator who now heads the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

• Donna Jones, of the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, whose lobbying clients include Black Mountain Ranch, Irvine Company, Lennar Communities, and McMillin Land Development.

• Craig Benedetto, of California Strategies, whose lobbying clients include the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties and BOMA San Diego, an outfit that provides information on office development and leasing.

• Paul Robinson, a lawyer whose firm does lobbying for Shea Homes and Shea Properties.

• Robert Lankford, of the development firm bearing his name and a member of the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

• Keith Jones, representing the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and a principal of Ace Parking Management.

• Tom Sudberry, of Sudberry Properties, a big developer.

• Lani Lutar, a lobbyist for the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which does not represent the average taxpayer but does flak work for well-heeled members who seek taxpayer money for real estate projects that ought to be financed with private capital.

And what of the four members on the civic center committee who are not registered lobbyists? Well, Mike LaBarre of Fehlman LaBarre is an architect (now planning a building at 11th and B) and Greg Mueller is a principal of the architecture firm Tucker Sadler. Lee Burdick is a lawyer with Higgs Fletcher & Mack and a commissioner of the Port of San Diego. Reid Carr is with an advertising company that works for such clients as Sempra Energy. His firm brags that visitors can watch Padres games from the company’s balcony.

It is no secret that the City of San Diego is on the financial brink. Does anyone think that the members of this committee, all with a stake in downtown development, will carefully weigh the City’s fiscal condition when deciding if a civic center is really necessary? Silly boy/girl.

The mayor’s finance committee crossed him up. It put out a draft study, as reported by Voice of San Diego, that actually told the truth: the City suffers from a structural deficit that can’t be patched up with onetime measures. Employment should be cut sharply, and taxes may have to go up. If such measures fail, San Diego should consider bankruptcy. Sanders angrily dismissed the report. But here’s the key: only one member of that committee was a registered lobbyist.

Other committees should be more obedient. For example, 5 of the 11 on the group looking into charter reform are registered lobbyists, including chairman John Davies, whose law firm represents numerous operations such as Kilroy Realty and the Building Industry Association of San Diego. And 9 of the 22 members of the committee looking into streamlining permit processing are lobbyists, including Marcela Escobar-Eck, the onetime director of the City’s Development Services Department. A non-lobbyist on that committee is Jim Waring, Sanders’s former real estate czar who left under a cloud.

Among other members of Sanders’s committees are the usual suspects: Ben Haddad, chairman, and Ruben Barrales, president, of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce; attorney Lynn Schenk; port commissioner Steve Cushman; and chief executive of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation Julie Meier Wright.

“It would be a good idea to broaden the membership of these action teams,” says Frye. She fears the result of these stacked committees will be more misrepresentations to voters. “We need to stop telling people that there will be free civic centers, free football stadiums. Nothing is free. Somebody will pay for it. If it comes from redevelopment money, it still comes from taxes.”

Says Mills, former president pro tem of the state senate, “The Redevelopment Agency owes a lot of money to the City of San Diego. The redevelopment money should be used for paying for the consequences of redevelopment. The infrastructure is in bad shape, but we keep building new buildings. We have cast-iron water mains over 100 years old.”

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Comments

SurfPuppy619 Dec. 16, 2009 @ 5:52 p.m.

As the City’s financial situation becomes ever more precarious, the grandiose plans of downtown boosters grow ever greater.”

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See, this is the part that does not add up or make any sense.... . . . . . . And that’s what Mayor Sanders’s committees are all about: grandiose structures such as a football stadium and convention-center expansion that line the pockets of real estate developers and their lobbyists while stealing money that should be used on necessities. ===============

Oppsss, spoke too soon, now I see why Sanders is doing this!

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2009 @ 5:58 p.m.

Response to post #1: Sanders is a puppet of real estate developers, whose lobbyists pull the strings. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 16, 2009 @ 5:58 p.m.

the City suffers from a structural deficit that can’t be patched up with onetime measures. Employment should be cut sharply, and taxes may have to go up.

No one is going to vote for a tax increase in this city, especially since there has been NO reform of the city pension system.

A tax increase will be nothing more than a pension tax, taking from the poor and middle class private sector-already being paid less and with no benefits- and giving it to over paid gov employees "retiring" at age 50 with lifetime pensions exceeding what they earned from when they were actually working.

Nope, a tax increase is not going to happen. Needs a vote from the people and we won't go for it.

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2009 @ 6:02 p.m.

Response to post #3: I agree that a tax increase would feed employee pensions that are already too high. But San Diego has known that for years, and not done anything. One reason is that there are legal obstacles. Another is simply there are so many votes of city employees. So if progress there is stymied, how is the city going to raise revenue? Fee increases will help, but won't close the gap. A tax increase would not be good, but may be a last resort. Best, Don Bauder

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calreb1 Dec. 16, 2009 @ 7:41 p.m.

Response to Surf Puppy. My small neighborhood was nearly eliminated to make room for oversized apartment buildings. Our small community was declared blighted and subject to being condemned by some blind appraiser from the City Redevelopment Agency who drove by, stuck his thumb in the air and announced "we'll generate fat private profits off the backs of this blighted neighborhood."

Well that fool didn't even check real estate transactions and appraisals. The City Redevelopment Agency declared $300-400K homes (this battle occurred ten years ago) blighted under the redevelopment statutes.

The community confronted the outrage, revealed the truth of the issue, thereby publicly catching the City Redevelopment Agency, as we said in Sweet Home Alabama, plain buckass nekkid. We residents, acting alone, saved our homes from the wrecking ball.

Real Estate Co. lobbyists showed up in substantial numbers at community meetings slithering about in their gecko grey suits, plying residents with unsupported (indeed, outrageous) claims of high purchase prices, and speaking in all manners of forked tongues but failed to turn the issue to benefit unlimited private greed.

Perhaps other SD communities will be subjected to the same money machine which has grown exponentially since our tiny neighborhood was saved. The point is the merchants of private profit will say and do anything to rob San Diego homeowners and renters of their homes, income, indeed, absorb their very lives, to reap excessive private benefit.

Greedy developers, if not stopped dead in their tracks, will cravenly gamble public funds, rather than risk corporate funds, to reward their avarice. Believe the truth.

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mrbios Dec. 16, 2009 @ 7:49 p.m.

Great article! And good comments... so far.

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Visduh Dec. 16, 2009 @ 8:29 p.m.

City government in San Diego has been delivering less and less for decades. Try to make a report to some city department and if you should actually connect with a person, he/she will first try to get you to call some other department, or failing that, "take your report", and then ignore it. Many years ago, when I still lived in SD, it was impossible to get a dog catcher to respond to a loose mastiff. "Routine" calls for police presence resulted in nobody ever showing up or following up. No, the city government of SD has been a caricature of what it should be for longer than most residents remember.

Yet those "do nothing" city employees and bureaucrats are demanding huge salaries and wages, and getting them along with ultra-generous pension plans. This is doubly ironic because the taxpaying public, employed in the private sector, is seeing its retirement downgraded to skimpy 401(k) plans, while they have no job security, and are expected to pay for the under-performing public sector. The current trend is untenable, and can only lead to a total breakdown in municipal services, or a massive reform. But today, a "massive reform" in SD would mean that every city employee actually do a day of work for a day of pay, and serve the public instead of himself or herself. The culture at City Hall is so far removed from reality that a reform is wildly improbable.

It will, sadly, get much worse before it gets better.

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2009 @ 9:45 p.m.

Response to post #5: You are absolutely right and should raise even more hell about it. Coronado, that town of $1 million-plus homes, is considered blighted.So is downtown San Diego. Redevelopment has been seized by developers for the construction of upscale buildings that should be financed with private capital. Redevelopment is a tool of the developers and a toy of the superrich. Redevelopment should go for truly blighted areas and for such purposes as affordable housing. Today, much redevelopment is simply a scam, and CCDC is the major scamster in San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2009 @ 9:47 p.m.

Response to post #6: We'll hear from some of the crooks. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 16, 2009 @ 9:49 p.m.

Response to post #7: Right on. The worse the government service, the greater the remuneration and more excessive the pension benefits. But don't expect Sanders to do anything. He came out of that culture. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 16, 2009 @ 10:24 p.m.

Response to Surf Puppy. My small neighborhood was nearly eliminated to make room for oversized apartment buildings. Our small community was declared blighted and subject to being condemned by some blind appraiser from the City Redevelopment Agency who drove by, stuck his thumb in the air and announced "we'll generate fat private profits off the backs of this blighted neighborhood."

"Blight" is now a bastardized word that can be stretched, pulled, bent and re-shaped into anything you want it to be-to apply to whatever a local muni wants it to.

It is so vague, ambiguous and overly broad that it should be struck down. But that isn't going to happen. It is jsut another scam the perpetrated by gov.

"Blight" is the CA/local equivalent of Kelo v City of New London.

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Burwell Dec. 16, 2009 @ 11:21 p.m.

Perhaps other SD communities will be subjected to the same money machine which has grown exponentially since our tiny neighborhood was saved. The point is the merchants of private profit will say and do anything to rob San Diego homeowners and renters of their homes, income, indeed, absorb their very lives, to reap excessive private benefit.

==============

The developers are running out of land to build on. The only game left for these bozos is "urban infill," tearing down existing single family residences and building high density cracker box condos and apartments for the "great unwashed," the horde of slobs who continue to arrive here en masse from Slobsville Michigan, Slobhollow Acres Florida, and Pudville Ohio.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2009 @ 7:20 a.m.

Response to post #11: The concept of blight is a fraud. So is today's use of redevelopment funds. Why isn't anything done? The answer to that is one of the messages of this column. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2009 @ 7:23 a.m.

Response to post #12: Great observations, Burwell. If by Pudville, Ohio, you mean Cleveland, then I was one who arrived in San Diego from there. It was back in 1973. Best, Don Bauder

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Anon92107 Dec. 18, 2009 @ 1:11 p.m.

Re: “Lobbyists Rule” and your Response #24 to your “The Mayor and the Dirty-Money Guy” Story:
“If corruption suddenly disappears in San Diego, I promise to shift my focus elsewhere.”

It looks like you’ll have to live to at least 100 Don because “Lobbyists Rule” documents, with pix and bullets the latest Top Dozen San Diego Bloodsuckers, registered lobbyists and long-term corporate welfare mendicants who control Mayor Sanders.

By coincidence, the new 12/17/09 "Peninsula Beacon" has a headline story about the consequences of “Lobbyists Rule”: “City budget noose is ready to tighten – Libraries, public safety set to take hits”. Two of the hits against public safety include “Implement rolling ‘brown outs’ by reducing eight engines from fire stations” and “Reduction of 41 police department civilian positions”.

This means that more and more innocent San Diegans will die and/or be grievously injured because of Sander’s and his Bloodsuckers who are the root cause of increasingly out of control firestorms, crime, poverty, etc.

P.S. It sure would have helped if UCSD Professor Erie had a sense of urgency and published his book this year as originally planned, because the longer it takes the more crashing and burning Sander’s Bloodsuckers will create for all San Diegans.

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Don Bauder Dec. 18, 2009 @ 2:34 p.m.

Response to post #15: Correct. To try to push ahead with corporate welfare projects downtown while cutting back on safety, essential public services, and infrastructure repair and maintenance is outrageous. But it seems to be happening without San Diegans screaming. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Dec. 19, 2009 @ 9 a.m.

Only if some council candidate comes out and tells the truth in a clear, straightforward manner, will many SD voters really understand what is happening. Most of the news media is not telling the story. The U-T certainly isn't going to do the job, nor will the North County Times do it because the city of SD is not in their territory, and they would rather recognize prep sports stars anyway. TV? Fuhgeddabouddit!

The sheer outrageousness of the notion that these committees can be planning many edifices while public safety and infrastructure are further reduced is breathtaking. But if only a few voters realize what is really happening, they might as well think big and bigger. They won't get all they ask for, but the more they seek, the more they will get. But is Sanders serious with all this, or is this just a feelgood political effort that could allow him to win some other, higher office?

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2009 @ 10:04 a.m.

Response to post #17: You are so right. The mainstream media, particularly the U-T, won't mention that public money is being stolen for edifices for the superrich while safety is endangered, infrastructure ignored, library hours slashed, because those media outlets make so much money on pro sports, conventions, subsidized hotels, etc. The citizenry is too apathetic to put two and two together, I fear. Best, Don Bauder

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a2zresource Dec. 19, 2009 @ 12:28 p.m.

Is there any count on how many of these "lobbyists" are also consultants for various parties with business in front of the Southeastern Economic Development Corporation (SEDC)?

It appears to be time that I start attending that redevelopment agency's board meetings...

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2009 @ 1:21 p.m.

Response to post #19: I don't know about SEDC, but several are connected with CCDC. This is hardly surprising. Best, Don Bauder

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a2zresource Dec. 19, 2009 @ 2:38 p.m.

RE #5:

Most of my neighbors in Encanto Heights are rather blissfully unaware of moves to re-zone the small businesses along Imperial Avenue out of existence and replace them with high-density residentials... kinda like the old crack castles along Imperial Avenue farther west, just east of Imperial & Euclid and running towards Lemon Grove for several blocks. I'm sure the residential proposals are not meant to eventually be crack castles, but that's the way things seem to go out here east of the cemeteries after a decade or so.

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2009 @ 4:01 p.m.

Response to post #21: Surprised? With real estate developer lobbyists running the city, the mentality is BUILD. The mentality should be REPAIR AND MAINTAIN the rotting infrastructure. But there isn't big money in that. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Dec. 20, 2009 @ 10:37 a.m.

In a vein similar to the foregoing, today's U-T has a pair of "dueling editorials" about the proposed new stadium. Scott Peters (who else?) takes the pro side, and Bruce Henderson the con. It is only short of amazing how a guy like Peters, one of the most pro-development councilmen in recent memory, can spin things to make such a monument look like a good idea. He argues that the money currently spent on the current facility would go away with the construction of a new facility, and that it would cost no more and might cost less! Henderson tells the truth. He says that this is really a fantasy, and that the Chargers will leave for LA regardless. (I'm not so sure that would happen if SD city government provided them a brand new venue with a sweetheart deal.)

Then also in the U-T are a few letters that take both sides of the controversy. One in particular is over-the-top in favor. Isn't it amazing about how those who want to have a team or attend its games will always pull out the justification that the stadium and team are of vast benefit to the city. Hey, if they do so much good, why ain't the city rich?

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Don Bauder Dec. 20, 2009 @ 11:17 a.m.

Response to post #23: Every objective economist (that is, economists not paid by pro sports teams) concludes that sports facilities don't enrich communities or even the immediate neighborhood. The pathetic Peters says what a great boon Petco has been. Hasn't anyone told the poor schnook that the subsidized condos and hotels in the ballpark district are suffering badly, the value of the buildings is therefore falling, and property tax revenue will fall? Hasn't anybody noticed that the ballpark district buildings are see-through? Peters's argument is laughable. It is an indication, however, that the port district -- and probably the rest of the establishment -- will want the taxpayer to fill their pockets, as usual, as the infrastructure continues to decay, fire and police protection falls, and services such as libraries crater. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 20, 2009 @ 5:47 p.m.

It is only short of amazing how a guy like Peters, one of the most pro-development councilmen in recent memory, can spin things to make such a monument look like a good idea.

Hmmmmm, lets just say the new stadium costs a billion dollars, which is on the light side IMHO, and the city sells bonds for that billion at 5% interest.

Debt service alone would be $50 million per year, or about $961K per week, or about $6.25 million per game, or about $137K per day, or about $6K per HOUR.

That is just the interest-no principle pay down at all.

Now, will someone-ANYONE- pleaser tell me where that money is going to come from??? The general fund???? Isn't this how we got into trouble with the pension and retiree healthcare budget deficits that total billions of dollars?????????

Who is going to cover those costs??? The Chargers?? The ticket holders??? If they build a 70K seat stadium that would be $715 PER ticket holder, per year, for 30 years. I think that is the ticket-if the ticker holders and the team want to build it-lets tax them, @ $715 per person per year for 30 years.

I am sure they won't have any problem covering that cost for the next 30 years. Make it a contract, $715 per year for the next 30 years. If they default we can attach their wages and put liens on their homes.

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David Dodd Dec. 20, 2009 @ 6:25 p.m.

If a new subsidized stadium is put to a vote, and the anti-stadium folks want Henderson to represent their side, then they run the risk of losing. Henderson is hated by a lot of people in San Diego for a variety of reasons. They should get a different spokesman, someone people would want to listen to.

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Don Bauder Dec. 20, 2009 @ 7:17 p.m.

Response to post #25: At least, the Cowboys were honest in building their $1 billion-plus stadium. The citizens got whacked with higher taxes and fees. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 20, 2009 @ 7:21 p.m.

Response to post #26: Henderson gets blamed for pointing out the truth. For example, Peters said this morning that Petco was such a great deal. Henderson showed him that it costs the city more than $20 million a year. Remember, it was supposed to be revenue-neutral, according to one of the many egregious lies that local government foisted on the citizenry. Bureaucrats were instructed by Golding to juggle the numbers to make it look like it would be revenue neutral. Henderson had said it would never be, and he was right. That is why a lot of people dislike him. He pops their balloons with facts. Best, Don Bauder

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David Dodd Dec. 20, 2009 @ 7:30 p.m.

Not that Henderson wasn't right about Petco, and not that Petco isn't a huge burden on the City of San Diego at the moment, but it is possible that in several years, that may turn around. There are much better things to be said about Petco than about a new stadium for the Chargers.

My point about Henderson isn't whether he was right or wrong. People do not always vote for what's correct, they vote for what's attractive. Conversly, they tend not to vote for what repels them. In my opinion, Henderson would be better off quietly and invisibly advising an attractive politician to further his cause.

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Don Bauder Dec. 20, 2009 @ 8:37 p.m.

Response to post #29: But if some people are repelled by Henderson, the question is "why?" And the answer is that he has been consistently right. Look at the people the establishment, aided and abetted by the mainstream media, have done their best to destroy: Donna Frye, Henderson, Mike Aguirre, Pat Shea, Diann Shipione, Peter Navarro. (Navarro warned of Los Angelesization. How right he was!) All those were right in their assessments far more than they were wrong. With the last two decades of San Diego politicians, it has been the reverse: they were wrong far, far more than they were right, if they were ever right at all. So they hate those who were right, and so do many voters, particularly those influenced by establishment media. Best, Don Bauder

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HonestGovernment April 25, 2010 @ 9:45 a.m.

Mr B, You wrote this article a while back, but I just came across it while looking at some other aspects of lobbying. Question: How can the City of San Diego Planning Department be a client of a registered San Diego lobbyist? In the list of 2010 registered lobbyists, www.sandiego.gov/city-clerk/pdf/lobby... MW Steele is said to represent the Planning Dept.

The BID Council, which was created by and is run by the City, is also listed as a lobbyist.

How does this all work?

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