Austin, we have a problem and the problem is taxpayer funded lobbying.

After the 2018 Texas Republican Convention, taxpayer funded lobbying became the top of five legislative priorities. In the 86th Legislature, we had success with the Senate passing legislation to end the practice. However, the House let the bill die but before we discus why, let’s discuss the problem.

Under current state law, political subdivisions may spend public funds to hire lobbyists for the purpose of supporting or opposing measures under consideration by the state legislature. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, political subdivisions spent an estimated $16 million on lobbyist compensation in 2015.

Also under current law, governments can automatically deduct union dues from employees’ paychecks and these dues can then be used to fund political activity. These political activities may be contrary to the preferences of taxpayers, who are, in essence, funding the dues collection and distribution.

Taxpayers and ratepayers of political subdivisions and special districts that hire lobbyists are forced to pay for lobby efforts of their jurisdiction, even if those efforts take positions contrary to their policy preferences. As an example, homeowners may prefer lower property taxes or even the complete replacement of property taxes, while a taxing jurisdiction may be employing lobbyists to protect or even raise property taxes.

Given that the interests of citizens may differ from those of their own local governments, citizens’ legislative lobby efforts toward state elected officials might be adversely affected by the distinct disadvantage they face when contending with the agenda of taxpayer funded lobbyists hired by political subdivisions.

Many lobbyists participate in the political process through campaign contributions — yes you read that right — fundraising, electioneering and other political activities. The receipt of public dollars by lobbyists presents the possibility that public funds could be used to directly or indirectly fund political activity.

A quick internet check with organizations like FollowtheMoney.org clearly shows that the majority of legislators take money from lobbyists. In fact, for many legislators, the largest portion of their campaign funds come from taxpayer funded lobbyists, which translates to your tax dollars being paid to legislative campaigns without your knowledge or permission.

So, what is the solution? Simply ban political subdivisions — cities, counties, water districts and other taxing entities — from hiring lobbyists, from paying dues to an association of similarly-situated entities that lobby, and from automatically deducting union dues.

Taxpayer funded lobbying can be much more than lobby firms. While testifying before the legislative committees, I sat in rooms loaded with fire and police chiefs, all in their dress uniforms, privately talking about their fancy motel rooms and fancy meals being provided by the taxpayers in their communities. Also in those meetings were city council people, city managers, county commissioners and others testifying to keep those taxpayer dollars while enjoying their visits to the capitol on the taxpayer’s dime.

A few more interesting facts: In 2017, lobbying disclosure forms reveal that 11% of lobbying dollars spent that year, as much as $41 million, was spent by governments to hire outside lobbyist to lobby government. Texas’ state agencies are banned from using tax dollars to lobby. A number of states currently ban taxpayer funded lobbying.

Knowing all this, wouldn’t you agree that if the state can’t use tax dollars to lobby why should the local government be able to? Tax dollars should be used to help people, not lobby against them. Tax dollars should never be used in any way for campaign purposes.

I feel very confident that the ban on Taxpayer funded lobbying will once again be high on the RPT legislative priorities in the 87th Legislature.

We’ll keep you updated.

Terry Harper serves as the State Republican Executive Committee Senatorial District 21 Chairman.

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