Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying

Ban local governments from hiring outside lobbyists

The Issue

According to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, as much as $376.6 million was spent to lobby state policymakers in 2017.

So long as government is large and powerful—taxing, spending, and regulating in ways that can affect the profitability of businesses and the well-being of people—individuals will try to influence government. Much of this effort is defensive and some is opportunistic, leading to crony corporatism with the government actively encouraged to pick winners and losers. In either case, lobbying is a form of free speech and is considered a basic right of the people as enshrined in the First Amendment.

Only people have rights—governments have powers— therefore government doesn’t have a right to free speech as do individuals, and, as a result, curbs on government’s ability to lobby higher levels of government would be constitutional.

Lobbying disclosure forms from 2017 show that 11 percent of lobbying dollars spent that year, as much as $41 million, was spent by government to hire outside lobbyists to lobby government. This figure excludes government employees who may spend some of their time lobbying other parts of government for their agency.

Elected members of the Texas Legislature as well as the governor and political appointees are all highly motivated to listen to the elected members of local government bodies. When any elected member or key staff member from a local elected entity is concerned enough about an issue to contact a lawmaker or executive branch official, they are likely to pay attention.

There are two other less well-known ways that local governments lobby in the state Capitol. The first is through public agency associations. These associations are not accountable to voters. Their very nature allows them to insulate the elected officials in their membership from the consequences of promoting higher taxes and bigger government. The majority of funds raised by these associations typically come from the ad space they sell in their trade association-like magazines to private sector companies seeking government contracts. The other form of off-the record lobbying is to assign local government employees the task of lobbying state government. This isa common practice in Austin during session when dozens of local government employees can be found on any given day lobbying lawmakers for more power and more taxpayer money. In 1997 a two-sentence bill was introduced in Texas, HB 2501, which would have prohibited any political subdivision of the state from using public funds to hire someone whose main job was to lobby any governmental entity. It failed.

Recommendations

  • Ban the ability of local government to hire outside lobbyists.
  • Prohibit any political subdivision of the state from using public funds to hire someone whose main job was to lobby any governmental entity.
  • Prohibit any public funds from going to public agency associations.

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