Capitol Weekly picks AT&T’s Bill Devine as 11th most influential person in Sacramento

Capitol Weekly publishes a yearly list of the top 100 influential behind-the-scenes power players in state government.

AT&T lobbyist Bill Devine was rated #11 for 2017.

Capitol Weekly describes him as “ubiquitous in Capitol corridors,” “AT&T’s Field General.” The Los Angeles Times says he is “a fixture in the Capitol and at fundraisers,” and “AT&T’s chief operative.”

However, even though he is a ubiquitous fixture and AT&T’s field general, Bill Devine hasn’t registered as a lobbyist since 2006.[1] The LA Times included Bill Devine in its amazing 2012 expose about telecom influence-peddling in California government (excerpts below). It also reported that Secretary of State and former state senator Alex Padilla received an unprecedented amount of money from AT&T while he was a legislator. To date, Secretary of State Padilla has taken no action on AT&T and Devine’s failure to comply with state rules.

The bill referred to below is SB 649.

Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 list – 2017

11. Bill Devine
Ask any Capitol denizen what companies consistently maintain the tightest grasp on California’s levers of power and inevitably AT&T appears at the top of the list.  Bill Devine is AT&T’s Field General in Sacramento, and his influence is only growing with AT&T’s 2015 acquisition of El Segundo-based DirecTV and pending merger with Time Warner.  Devine was a driving force in the year’s most closely-watched telecommunications bill – legislation that would expedite the local installation of “small cell” devices necessary to expand 5G wireless statewide.  The company also remains the largest individual corporate donor to candidate campaigns across the state. It is the signature sponsor of what has been – for more than a decade — the single largest legislative fundraiser, the annual Speaker’s Cup event at Pebble Beach. Devine is folksy, friendly and ubiquitous in Capitol corridors. He has every legislator on speed dial, and in an era when flashy tech companies like Airbnb and Uber dominate the headlines, no company has left a greater footprint on technology-related public policy in California than AT&T.


AT&T wields enormous power in Sacramento, April 22, 2012


AT&T has “shown the ability to exercise political power on an unprecedented scale,” said Regina Costa, a researcher for the Utility Reform Network, a consumer group…

Many of the company’s victories have come at the California Public Utilities Commission, a five-member panel appointed by the governor that oversees the telecommunications industry. Its members have waved through mergers, limited regulations on cellular service and helped AT&T rebuild itself into a telecom behemoth almost 30 years after it was split apart in the wake of a federal antitrust case.

The rest of AT&T’s wins come at the state Capitol, where the company focuses most of its lobbying efforts. There, lawmakers have passed bills that have translated into millions of dollars for the firm’s bottom line and stopped dozens of measures that AT&T has opposed.

The core of the firm’s strategy has long been the two-day Speaker’s Cup, the jewel of the legislative fundraising circuit. There is an annual golf outing in Del Mar for the Capitol’s minority Republicans, but it raises a fraction of what Democrats get at Pebble Beach.

Tickets for the Speaker’s Cup, to be held May 5-6 this year, average more than $12,000 per person. Some legislators donate to the cause from their campaign funds; otherwise they pay nothing for a weekend that, in addition to world-class golf, features free-flowing wine and four-star cuisine. Body wraps and hot-stone massages are de rigueur…

Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) saw the company’s muscle at a hearing of the Senate telecom committee last year…. The veteran legislator was pushing for a law to stop fraudulent charges from being added to customers’ wireless bills by phone companies, a practice known as “cramming.”

She said her bill was poised for passage after she had spent days hammering out changes negotiated with Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the committee chairman. Then Bill Devine showed up.

Sporting round glasses and loose-fitting suits, Devine is AT&T’s chief operative, a fixture in the Capitol and at fundraisers. He strolls the halls greeting lawmakers like friends, addressing them by first name rather than by title and greeting many with a hug.

In the committee room, Devine took a front-row seat reserved for legislators and staff as Wolk approached the podium to present her bill. When she had finished, he followed with his own vision of what the measure should be. Wolk was visibly upset.

“It’s highly irregular to have a lobbyist come up and make a proposal, without having shared it with me, or the chair,” she said later.

But as others on the committee voiced support for AT&T’s position, Wolk grudgingly agreed to postpone the vote. A week later, the bill died.

“In the olden days, people have told me, chairs would have thrown the lobbyist out of the room and scolded him for his disrespect of the author and the process,” Wolk said after the hearing.

The senator describes AT&T’s lobbying style as more aggressive than that of other Capitol interests.

From 1999, when the state began keeping electronic records of lobbying activity, through the end of 2011, AT&T spent more money trying to influence public officials than any other single corporation. In those 13 years, according to records from the California secretary of state, AT&T and its affiliates spent more than $47 million on lobbying — more than twice the figure for the next biggest corporate spender, Edison International, which shelled out about $21.9 million.

In addition, AT&T hands out, on average, more than $1 million in political contributions each year. Every current member of the Legislature has received at least $1,000; chairmen of the committees that oversee the telecommunications industry get far more.

Padilla has chaired the telecommunications panel since late 2008, collecting $41,200 from AT&T and its employee political action committee — more than the company has given since then to any other lawmaker except the leaders in each house. In the Assembly, Steve Bradford has received $23,500 from AT&T since becoming telecom chairman in 2010…

Charitable giving has long been entwined with AT&T’s political strategy. The firm has given $145,000 to two charter schools in Oakland founded by Gov. Jerry Brown, $50,000 of that since Brown was elected governor. It gives to a range of other groups, and many AT&T representatives serve on their boards. The organizations often back the company’s priorities.

Posted under Fair Use Rules.


Lobbying Activity 

William H. Devine – last registration

terminated 9-30-06

  1. Lobbyist Rules

The Political Reform Act requires individuals, businesses and other organizations that make or receive payments to influence state governmental decisions – such as advocating for or against legislative bills and state agency regulations – to register as lobbyists and submit periodic reports of their lobbying activity. You can access these reports through California’s statewide campaign finance and lobbying database, Cal-Access.

The following are common terms used for lobbying rules:

      1. Lobbyist/Lobbying Firm

lobbyist is an individual who is compensated to communicate directly with any state, legislative or agency official to influence legislative or administrative action on behalf of his or her employer or client. An individual who receives reimbursement only for reasonable travel expenses is not a lobbyist.

lobbying firm is a business that is compensated to communicate directly with any state, legislative or agency official to influence legislative or administrative action on behalf of a client.

      1. Lobbyist Employers/Lobbying Coalitions

lobbyist employer is an individual, business or other organization that employs a lobbyist or hires a lobbying firm.

lobbying coalition is a group of 10 or more individuals, businesses or other organizations that pool their funds for the purpose of hiring a lobbyist or lobbying firm.

      1. $5,000 Filers

$5,000 filer is an individual or entity that does not make payments to a lobbyist or a lobbying firm, but still spends $5,000 or more in a calendar quarter to influence legislative or administrative action, such as placing an advertisement or sending a mailing urging others to contact their legislators concerning pending legislation.

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