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Local Governments Spend Big On Lobbyists

In many states, local governments spend more on lobbyists than both business and unions.

 Corrupt man in a suit putting euro banknotes into his pocket. Kiwiev/Wikimedia CommonsLocal governments are spending taxpayers' money to lobby for more power over taxpayers.

The Texas Municipal League, for example, collects tax-funded dues from 1,153 cities. This year alone, the league has employed or contracted with 13 registered lobbyists, who have campaigned for cities' power to impose everything from Airbnb restrictions to property tax increases.

Last year, Arizona's professional regulatory boards—funded through a mix of taxes and licensing fees—spent roughly $1 million on professional lobbyists, who helped scuttle occupational licensing reform in the state.

"The challenge with taxpayers funding lobbyists is that they're being forced to pay for services that typically run contrary to their interests," says Chuck DeVore, vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. These lobbyists, he says, "invariably lobby for bigger government, more borrowing, higher spending, and more regulation."

Local governments and government agencies have become the predominant spender of lobbying dollars in several states. California's local government entities—from cities to school boards—spent $23.4 million hiring lobbyists during the first two quarters of 2017, more than any other sector. In Washington state, local governments spent $2.5 million lobbying state officials in 2013, the latest year for which I have comprehensive data. That's more than the $2.1 million that came from the business community, or the $1.9 million spent by unions.

During the 2015 Texas legislative session, over half of the 1,741 registered lobbyists in the state were working in some capacity for local government entities. Local governments spent $16 million on lobbying the same year.

The growing pot of federal and state dollars up for grabs can make these expenditures a profitable investment, says DeVore. "For every dollar spent on lobbying the higher-level entity, there are hundreds and hundreds of dollars at stake," he says.

In many states, the size of that investment is growing.

In Nevada local governments spent $3.75 million on lobbying this year, a 13 percent increase from the previous state legislative session.

In 2016, Minnesota's local governments increased their spending on lobbyists by 6 percent over the previous year, even as overall lobbying expenditures fell in the state by 3 percent.

"Lobby for local government aid so they can pay for a lobbyist for more local government aid," one frustrated Minnesota lawmaker complained to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Tepid efforts have been made to reform the practice of tax-funded lobbying.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey banned state agencies under his control from hiring outside lobbyists in 2016, saying the practice was "unnecessary and unjust." The legislature codified that move this year.

Eleven states have implemented similar restrictions on state bodies, such as regulatory boards and public universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But no states restrict local governments from hiring lobbyists, or from spending tax money on representative associations. A 2015 Texas bill that would have done that failed without ever making it to a floor vote, as did a similar 2008 California bill, put forward by DeVore himself while he was still a state Assemblyman.

There is of course nothing inherently wrong with spending on lobbyists to influence legislation. Private interest groups using voluntary contributions to make their case directly to legislators is an integral part of the democratic process. But when those funds come from compulsory taxes and are being spent by government entities, the equation changes.

"Local governments already have lobbyists—they're called elected officials," says DeVore. "Going that extra step and paying lobbyists tens of millions of dollars to try to influence government is just wrong. It's a misuse of government resources, and its patently unfair to taxpayers."

Photo Credit: Kiwiev/Wikimedia Commons

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Government as special interests? Now I've heard everything.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Rent seekers gonna seek rent.

  • Rhywun||

    If they can vote themselves raises, install a public-sector union class that lords over the rest of us and keeps them in power, and get the stupid taxpayers to pay for their corruption trial legal defenses - well, what's a little lobbying? It's like a drop in the ocean - BFD.

  • ||

    It's like a drop in the ocean - BFD.

    And I'm sure sometimes the lobbying does some good like keeping the gay wedding cake market from collapsing and getting trannies the access to restrooms and warfighting supplies they so desperately need.

  • The Knuckle||

    I serve on a city council in MN, we have joined a lobbying organization to counter the state mandated, unscientific restrictions being passed down to us. So once in a while the lobbying is to prevent localities from having unfunded and often stupid mandates from being foisted upon us.

  • Jerryskids||

    Why spend money on lobbying the state? Can't they just asset forfeiture whatever they need?

  • ||

    In Wheaton IL our government hires propagandists (with taxpayer money) to convince us to vote in tax increases. We vote them down anyway and the only winners are the scumbag liars.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    All government budgets are re-election slush funds.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If I had paid any amount of money into these rackets, I would sue for using my license money to lobby politicians that are opposed to my political beliefs. It was done to the unions in Knox v. SEIU.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Re the alt text (which I appreciate, thank you): suit jackets do not have satin stripes along their lapels, so that is a tux jacket.

    It's pedantry like this that makes me a big ol' bucket of hot fuck.

  • Juice||

    According to the pic, we're talking about local European governments?

  • JFree||

    There is of course nothing inherently wrong with spending on lobbyists to influence legislation. Private interest groups using voluntary contributions to make their case directly to legislators is an integral part of the democratic process. But when those funds come from compulsory taxes and are being spent by government entities, the equation changes.

    No the 'equation doesn't change' where one is thus deemed acceptable/normal and the other is not. ALL of it is corrupting and the challenge should be to figure out how to eliminate it without eliminating the 1st Amendment right of everyone (including municipal corporations) to 'petition to seek redress of grievances'.

    That's not an easy challenge but the only acceptable option is to at least TRY to address it. Personally I think that 'sortition' (random selection of legislators) helps solve some of it - where 'election' creates more of it. That's what the Athens v Sparta model also thought. But regardless, it is an issue that shouldn't be simply ignored/accepted as long as govt is merely being corrupted by private voluntary actors.

  • JFree||

    Another way of at least dramatically raising the cost of that lobbying is to massively increase the size of a legislature. The more votes you gotta buy, the more expensive it becomes - while the benefits of the corrupted legislation stay the same.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    There is of course nothing inherently wrong with spending on lobbyists to influence legislation.

    Bullshit.

    There is of course plenty inherently wrong with legislators whoring themselves out to lobbyists. And these are the same pieces of shit that think it is OK to arrest johns

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