By Cindy Baker | 11/23/11 12:00 AM PST

Lobbyists have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. The powerful interests that employ lobbyists spent nearly quarter of a billion dollars — $217 million from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 – to persuade government to meet their clients’ needs. The amount is a record.

Some of the most lavish spending came from those whose own programs appeared threatened by the looming chopping block of the state budget, and they in included groups representing education, energy, utilities, healthcare organizations and organized labor.

The 325,000-member California’s Teacher’s Association, one of the largest and most powerful political interests in the state, spent the most — $6.2 million on lobbying efforts through the end of September.

The figure includes the money spent on outside lobbyists as well as the dollar value on the organization’s in-house lobbyists. During the first three quarters more than 2,600 interests spent $88 million on in-house lobbying alone – nearly $10 million a month.

“Lobbying is a legal and appropriate activity,” says Dan Schnur, director of the USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute. “Given the financial stakes, if you can get a $100 million tax break or create a spending program that perpetuates your special interest for just a few thousand dollars, even with these numbers, then this kind of spending on lobbying is a most cost-effective process.”

At the current pace, California’s lobbying spending totals are expected to easily top a quarter of a billion dollars by the end of the year. Next year, an election year with myriad deep-pocket issues facing the Legislature, promises to be even more.

The petroleum industry spent heavily on lobbying this year, their payments eclipsed only by those of the California Teachers Association. Among the issues facing the industry was the creation of a renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to get a third of their power from alternative energy sources – including wind, solar and geothermal – by the end of the decade, and the creation of a cap-and-trade economic program to curb greenhouse gases.

The Western States Petroleum Association spent $3.2 million, while Chevron Corporation and its subsidiaries spent $2.1 million.

Healthcare companies also compete heavily, with companies like Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. ($2.5 million) and the California Hospital Association/California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems ($1.9 million) have also been making considerable contributions this year.

The tiny, scandal-plagued city of Vernon just a few miles south of Los Angeles (pop. 105) spent an astonishing $3.1 million on lobbying, as it battled to retain its cityhood against legislation authored by the Assembly speaker. In the end the speaker’s legislation was blocked by a powerful labor and business coalition.

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