Now that lawmakers have convened in Austin, private citizens and PACs are no longer able to make political contributions, so the sole financial influence on lawmakers during the legislative session comes from lobbyists. In fact, in session and out, lobbying is by far the biggest source of money in Texas politics — and taxpayers are footing the bill for a lot of it. This look at the City of Lubbock is part of our series analyzing taxpayer-funded entities in Texas.
Eliminating taxpayer-funded lobbying is one of the Republican Party of Texas’ top priorities this session, and bills to end the practice have been filed in both the Texas House (HB 749) and Senate (SB 234). Whether you support or oppose the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying, it’s helpful to understand what lobbying looks like for these entities, including their budget, who they hire, and their objectives.
Cities across Texas have collectively spent upwards of $50 million to lobby lawmakers in Austin since 2019. The City of Lubbock has been among those cities paying tax dollars to lobbyists to advocate on the city’s behalf in Austin. Although individual lobbyists are not required to disclose exact compensation numbers, the total spent since 2019 ranges between $210,000 and $455,000.
The City of Lubbock, located in the South Plains at the base of the Texas Panhandle, has become known as the “Hub City,” home to Texas Tech University. Funded by taxes and fees, the city boasts a $230 million general fund and $877.6 million in total revenues for fiscal year 2020-21. The City of Lubbock provides municipal services to its 229,573 residents. Despite a lack of transparency in reporting standards for lobbyists, it is worth noting that even the maximum compensation represents a small fraction of Lubbock’s tax revenue for the same time period.
From January 2019 – December 2020, filings with the Texas Ethics Commission reflected the City of Lubbock’s lobbying contract with Blackridge, Rusty Kelley’s prominent Texas government relations firm, based in Austin.
During the last election cycle, three of the eight lobbyists reported compensation in excess of $25,000. The highest paid for the City of Lubbock was Carol McGarah, CEO of Blackridge, who reported compensation between $150,000 and $250,000. Rusty Kelley and Blackridge COO Sara Sachde follow McGarah on the list of the city’s highest paid lobbyists, receiving minimum disclosed compensations of $35,000, and $25,001, respectively.
|Lobbyist Name||Minimum Compensation||Maximum Compensation|
|Russell T Kelley||$35,000.00||$74,999.98|
|Micah Anthony Rodriguez||$2.00||$19,999.98|
|Victor F Mendoza||$2.00||$19,999.98|
|Austin E Holder||$1.00||$9,999.99|
According to the TEC’s prospective filings, it appears that Blackridge continues to represent the interests of the City of Lubbock in 2021.
Ahead of the 87th Texas Legislative Session, the Lubbock City Council approved its list of legislative priorities — a wish list of sorts — which included local, state, and federal goals. The state-level priorities effectively set the table for the issues its lobbyists may tackle in Austin this year.
According to the city’s website, among other things, the City of Lubbock’s legislative priorities include advocating for long-term funding for the completion of Loop 88, appropriation of capital funding to construct future I-27 improvements, supporting full state funding for mental health treatment, and expansion of broadband availability.
Notably, the list also includes a desire for their lobbying efforts not to be curtailed, citing opposition to limits “on effective municipal participation in the legislative process, including representation and effective notice of legislative meetings.”
Although the 87th Legislative Session is currently adjourned until February 12, lobbyists can engage with lawmakers any time. While legislation is not officially moving forward in Austin, the goals of lobbyist clients like the City of Lubbock are still being represented behind the scenes.
In addition to opposing the Senate and House bills that would end the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying (which would curtail the city’s ability to hire lobbyists for future sessions), residents can expect that Lubbock’s lobbying agenda this session will mirror their list of legislative priorities.
To explore the City of Lubbock’s lobbying records for the 2020 cycle, including Blackridge lobbyists’ other clients, start here. You can also see the full list of entities employing lobbyists in Texas here. To be updated when the latest Texas lobbying data becomes available on Transparency USA, subscribe to our email list or join us on Twitter or Facebook.