It was like stumbling into a convention of the Society of Influence Peddlers, with old friends and enemies schmoozing before the start of festivities.
There were Hall of Fame lobbyists like Richard Alatorre and Mike Roos, and future Hall-of-Famers like Lucinda “Cindy” Starrett of Latham & Watkins, and Tim McOsker of Mayer Brown, along with dozens — at least three dozen — other operatives in the $200 to $500-per-hour class of lawyers, lobbyists, public relations experts, media manipulators and assorted other consultants, all backed up by a host of corporate executives, union workers and grateful non-profit supporters.
The event was a showdown meeting Thursday of the Executive Management Committee of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority over who gets the five-year contract to sell advertising on buses and trains — CBS Outdoor, a division of the giant entertainment company, which has offered a $110-million guarantee, or Titan Outdoor, the titan of transit advertising, which has offered $117 million.
For most people in the room, it was a question of who gets the big bucks. For me, it was a window into how power and money work at a time when those who have played this game for a long time now pine for the days when there was honor among thieves and at least a few leaders were tough enough to make sure that even the peasants like you and me got more than a crumb from the table of power.
What three months ago had appeared to be a routine renewal of a contract held by CBS Outdoor for nearly 30 years has turned into a kill-or-be-killed war, a war so intense that CBS Corp. President and CEO Les Moonves, a $69-million-a-year entertainment industry giant, has gotten personally involved in the public fight.
He accused Titan of a “spotty” financial record, having lost a New York transit contract and renegotiated others in San Francisco down from the guaranteed payment number because its ad revenue fell short.
“To choose that company over ours just seems preposterous; we have financial strength behind our company,” he told the L.A. Times recently, adding menacingly that it would be “wrong” to award the contract to Titan unless “they want to urge a company like us to leave and to do production out of state.”
In their analysis supporting CBS, MTA executives warned that the “greatest risk factor” in the contract is the “possibility of the selected vendor becoming unable to pay Metro its guaranteed revenue.”