HB 281: Ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying
By Rep. Mayes Middleton
Relating to the use by a political subdivision of public money for lobbying activities.
Under current 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 Public Policy Foundation, local governments spent as much as $41 million to lobby the legislature in 2017 alone. Taxpayers and ratepayers of political subdivisions and special districts that hire lobbyists are forced to pay for lobby efforts of their jurisdiction, even if these efforts take positions contrary to their policy preferences. Given that the interests of citizens may differ from those of their 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.
Furthermore, the state has the sovereign role of creating or chartering political subdivisions as well as dictating their powers, mandates, and prohibitions. The state also provides state funds to political subdivisions for the implementation of state policy at the specific direction of the legislature. Many consider lobbying of the state legislature by political subdivisions to represent a clear and unacceptable conflict of interest between the state and its local entities. Simply put, the government should not be allowed to lobby itself.
Moreover, many lobbyists participate in the political process through campaign contributions, fundraising, electioneering, and other political activities. The receipt of public dollars by these individuals presents the unseemly possibility that public funds could be used to directly or indirectly fund political activity.
Given the significant amount of state funds that most local entities receive and the state’s similar prohibition on lobbying by state agencies, the state has a compelling interest in extending this prohibition to political subdivisions.
Ban all political subdivisions, including cities, counties, independent school districts, and special purpose districts, as well as other public entities such as regional mobility authorities and toll authorities from hiring lobbyists or paying dues to an association of similarly-situated entities which lobbies. Important caveats to the prohibition on local government lobbying include the explicit authorization of elected officers of a political subdivision to support or oppose measures under consideration by the legislature. Additionally, employees of a political subdivision may provide information at the request of a committee in the legislature on behalf of the political subdivision.
Under this change, political subdivisions would not be able to spend public money to influence the legislature. Furthermore, this legislation would prevent political subdivisions from hiring lobbyists for the purpose of influencing the outcome of measures under consideration by the legislature. Local elected officials would remain empowered to personally advocate on behalf of their jurisdiction before the legislature as a natural extension of their representative duty.
This legislation would protect taxpayers from being forced to fund lobby efforts contrary to their policy preferences or interests; taxpayers could also be certain that their tax dollars are not used to fund political activity.