In a move that sent shockwaves through the political class, Governor Ducey announced last week he would terminate all state agencies’ contracts with professional lobbyists by executive order. Although there has been much balking by government agencies and the beneficiaries of such contracts (i.e. lobbyists), Arizona tax payers just scored big time.
The practice of government employing their own lobbyists has exploded over the last two decades. Most people don’t know this, but virtually every city, county, state agency and special taxing district in Arizona hire lobbyists to represent them at taxpayer’s expense. The resulting impact on taxpayers, both in cost and dwindling influence, have grown significantly over time.
Public Lobbyists Erode our Representative Government
Allowing the government to use tax dollars to hire contract lobbying firms is antithetical to the basic tenets of our democratic-republic. Government itself is supposed to be responsible for executing the policies adopted by our elected leaders, not advocate for policies that benefit them. Unelected bureaucrats therefore should be “mute” on matters of policy and strive to simply provide data and information relevant and requested. This does not require a trained professional in the art of persuasion but an internal expert capable of curating and communicating.
Government Lobbyists Advocate for More Government
The separation of these roles and powers is more than theoretical. When government is allowed to use tax payers’ dollars for lobbying they tend to lobby for the expansion of their own programs, authorities, and funding. This is often at odds with the interests and opinions of the actual constituents, who unknowingly are forced to fund the very ideas with which they disagree. Just this year, state health boards and commissions aggressively lobbied members of the legislature in order to thwart a bill which would have streamlined many of the duplicated costs associated with these boards as well as placed constraints on decisions deemed “anti-competitive” in nature. Compounding the issue, many local entities find themselves in something of an “arms race” each competing for state attention and hiring their own lobbyists, as well as contributing to organizations that lobby on behalf of all the member-cities.
An Unidentified Amount of Wasted Money
Governor Ducey’s administration surveyed the State’s more than 200 boards and commissions, and discovered approximately $1 million in public funds annually go to fund professional lobbyists. This is probably a conservative number as more than 80 boards chose simply to not answer the survey despite “multiple requests and extended deadlines.” This is typical in other states. In a legislative study conducted in Mississippi for 2003 – 2007, they found the state used public funds to contract 9 lobbyists amounting to almost $1.3 million. In 2006 – 2007 New Jersey reported public entities spent upwards of $3.87 million on lobbyists. And opacity is the norm, not the exception. Many states, like Arizona, have thorough reporting requirements of private lobbyists. This is not the case however with public lobbyists, making it very difficult to discern just how much tax dollars are being spent. Furthermore, many of these boards and commissions are hiring separate lobbyists or have separate contracts with the same lobbyist to fight for or against the same bills. So not only are they using tax dollars to fight citizen interests, but they are incurring duplicative costs to do so.
Tax Payers are Demanding More Accountability
As this issue receives more attention, citizens are demanding more accountability from the use of their tax dollars. Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia have prohibitions on state agencies using public funds for all outside lobbyists and in most cases internal lobbyists as well. Other states have pushed for greater transparency and reporting, as well as other restrictions on the use of public funds for lobbying.
Governor Ducey is to be applauded for this bold and brave move. He has drawn a line in the sand and chosen to stand with tax payers instead of entrenched government interests.