Battle over bag bill draws big bucks

Out-of-state interests working to defeat a bill to ban plastic bags were among the top spenders on lobbying to influence California legislators’ votes this past summer.

South Carolina-based plastic bag manufacturer Hilex Poly Co. was the state’s second-biggest spender, paying more than $1.08 million for lobbying activities between July 1 and Sept. 30.

No. 4 on the list was the Virginia-based American Chemistry Council, of which Hilex is a member.

Both Hilex and the council joined forces in a furious effort to defeat a bill that would have made California the first state to ban plastic grocery carry-out bags.

The chemistry council spent more than $942,000 on lobbying during this same period, according to the most recent reports filed with the California Secretary of State’s office.

Together, the council and Hilex invested more than $2 million in lobbying just as legislators were ending their session this year on Aug. 31.

The joint lobbying effort surpassed that of the California Teachers Association, the top spender.

The CTA, a perennial big gun in state politics, spent $1.5 million on lobbying between July 1 and Sept. 30.

The Western States Petroleum Association, a key lobbying organization in California for the oil industry, came in third, with about $1.01 million in lobbying expenditures.

The plastic bag bill fell short of enough votes in the state Senate on the last night of the session.

The chemistry council also worked to kill a bill this summer that would have banned the chemical BPA in baby bottles and toddlers’ sippy cups sold in California.

Hilex’s burst of lobbying payments this summer was especially noteworthy. The company had no record of spending earlier this year.

As likely action on the paper bag bill grew closer, Hilex paid $181,000 in fees to Sacramento-based Mercury Public Affairs and nearly $903,000 in “other payments to influence.”

At the same time, the chemistry council spent $942,050 of its own, including $862,118 in “other payments to influence,” which can include purchasing ads.

Representatives of Hilex and the chemistry council did not return telephone calls for comment.

Hilex and the chemistry council also gave thousands of dollars in campaign donations to key lawmakers. Some sided with the bag bill, but many cast decisive votes against it.

California grocery interests also took part in the battle over the bag bill.

Grocers would have benefited because they would have been able to charge a fee for customers’ use of paper bags.

The California Grocers Association spent $93,242 on lobbying for the bag bill and other proposals between July 1 and Sept. 30.

The Safeway-Vons company, which had an interest in the bill’s passage, spent $45,179 on lobbying during the same period.