California’s drought brings wellspring of lobbying

Man in dark suit with yellow tie speaking before audience
Dennis Cardoza seen speaking in 2014. (Photo credit: U.S. National Archives/Flickr)

Facing one of the worst droughts in its history, California has imposed water rationing on all citizens — whether they like it or not. On Friday, the state announced that even farmers with senior water rights would face serious cuts in usage.

Enter former Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., who now works as a lobbyist for Foley & Lardner LLP. The Western Growers Association, a trade association representing farmers in California, Arizona and Colorado, hired him to lobby the federal government on, among other things, water policy.

Cardoza represented California’s 18th District from 2003 to 2012, when he suddenly resigned and was hired as a public policy managing director by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, a law and lobbying firm. While in Congress, Cardoza was a member of Democratic leadership and the House Agriculture Committee.

In his new job at Foley & Lardner, he is a co-chair of the federal lobbying division and chair of the California lobbying division.

Cardoza’s lobbying disclosure for the Western Growers, made public last Thursday, specifies that he will lobby on California water policy and drought legislation and on changing the Endangered Species Act.

As California’s drought goes from bad to worse, Congress is gearing up for a battle over proposed legislative fixes. Republicans, who refer to the drought as the “man-made” result of overly strict environmental regulations, are urging for more water to be pumped to Central Valley farmers. Democrats, who point to the risk the Republican plan might pose to the state’s waters and endangered fish species, favor increased funding of desalinization and water-efficient appliances.

Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee, who cite the Endangered Species Act as a contributor to the drought, have introduced a number of bills that would modify existing current law to the benefit of large ranchers and farmers.

A bill introduced last Thursday by Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, seeks to add a requirement that “objective numerical” goals be set to remove a species from the endangered list.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has outlined draft drought legislation, though it remains uncirculated to many of her colleagues. From 2009 to 2014, agribusiness gave Feinstein $584,000 in campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, the Colorado River Board of California, a state body dedicated to “protecting California’s rights and interests in the resources provided by the Colorado River,” is also expanding its lobbying footprint in the nation’s capital. Lobbyist Sara Tucker, who is also contracted by Sonoma County and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partners, registered to work for the water board on May 29.

Whatever bill Congress ends up debating, it’s a safe bet that California’s agricultural interests will have a seat at the table. The Western Growers Association alone spent $700,000 on lobbying last year. Having a former congressman on the payroll doesn’t hurt either.