Local government entities across the state spend millions of taxpayer dollars every legislative session hiring lobbyists – unbeknownst to the taxpayers footing the bill – to advocate for and against reforms in the legislature. While some municipalities bury the contracts for such services deep within some nebulous online archive, some don’t even go that far, meaning that taxpayers for many local governments across the state have no idea what kind of policy positions they are forced to fund advocacy efforts for – or how much of their money is spent on these efforts.
Often, the motivation for shrouding these efforts is an obvious one: the lobbyists are hired to protect local governments’ taxing and regulatory authority over their respective jurisdictions. Obtaining these records, just as well, can be time-consuming and expensive; which prevents everyday citizens from obtaining relevant information about their local governments’ activities.
Furthermore, because of the inherent obscurity surrounding these expenditures, it allows local officials to say one thing while doing another. Local officials can hire lobbyists to advocate for legislative reforms on their behalf that would make them unpopular with their constituents were they to publicly advocate for those positions – essentially allowing them to have their cake and eat it, as well, adding another layer of confusion to an already confounding information game come Election Day.
While an outright ban on tax-funded lobbying should be the ultimate goal, enacting simple disclosure requirements – about both the nature and the amount paid for advocacy work on behalf of local governments – in the short-term would bring an end to the patchwork quilt of regulations across the state and help clear the muddied waters in Texas’ local elections.
Taxpayers deserve to know – without painstaking effort – precisely what efforts they are being forced to fund.