Your Tax Dollars Being Used to Lobby – Against You

“I thought about you when I saw Schoeller’s bill!” was a greeting I received from one of the most influential lobbyists in Jefferson City last night.  ”Schoeller’s bill” he was referring to is House Bill 1494 sponsored by Representative Shane Schoeller, R-139 that requires public entities to disclose who they hire to lobby and how much they spend doing so. Why did he think of me when he saw the bill? I’ve been a big proponent for going even further than HB1494!

Around the capitol, whenever public funds are being discussed whether for tax credits, public funded lobbying etc. the term used is OPM (sounds like ‘opium’) – Other People’s Money. While private businesses have learned how to tap into public funds represented by tax credits and the like, the fact is public entities are masters at spending OPM to get more!

Private interests hire lobbyists with their own money to tell their “story”.  It becomes a part of their cost of services or products.  They make a decision as to whether to pass those costs along to their customers.  Public entities hire lobbyists with taxpayer dollars and when they do, it is a direct cost to the taxpayers.

Lobbyists, particularly on the state level, often get a bad rap because they are an easy target.  It is true they have access and many of them or their clients make political contributions as well.  The public generalizes about lobbyists and some consider all lobbyists the same.  They aren’t.

My experience as a legislator and as a lobbyist for United for Missouri has been the majority of lobbyists provide accurate information regarding the issues or at least accurate in regards to the client being represented.  It’s up to the legislator to ask the right questions to uncover the other side of the story. It’s really as simple as asking “what will those opposed to your position tell me?”

Lobbyist are regulated and for legitimate reasons. Over the years, several bills have been proposed to limit the use of taxpayer dollars to employ lobbyists to convince legislators to vote “yes” or “no” on bills. The lobbying efforts from public entities are usually represented as being on behalf of the taxpayers of the public entity.  The real truth is that the vast majority of the efforts are in favor of the public entity and not the taxpayers that public entity represents.

Each time a bill has been introduced to eliminate public funding lobbying but still allow public entities to hire lobbyists to provide info only, the lobbyists and public entities have been successful in thwarting the bill.  The bill has never made it out of committee to my knowledge.  So far the lobbyists and public entities wishing to continue using the taxpayers as their source of funding to influence the legislature have won the battle at the expense of their funding source, the taxpayer.

It’s obvious that legislators do not want to take on the lobbyists in this matter. We have a lot of education to do.

This year House Bill 1494 has been introduced that would as described early, merely require a public entity to disclose any lobbyists they hire to represent them using taxpayer dollars and how many dollars they spend.  It also requires the public entity to disclose memberships in organizations paid for by taxpayer funds.

Now surely this is considered an innocuous requirement of public entities to disclose right? Wrong!  Lobbyists have already circled the wagons and apparently caused enough uproar that the very basic bill is expected to have significant problems.

This should not be an acceptable position.

We the people who are providing the funding for these lobbyists should require more accountability from those public entities who spend our hard earned money to hire them. Asking them to disclose who they hire and how much of our money they are using to do it should not even be an issue they fight against!

HB1494 is a very simple disclosure bill.  What are the legislators, public entities and lobbyists afraid of in the bill?  Surely it isn’t the shining of the light on how they spend our money, is it?