For the 2020 election cycle (2019 – 2020), more than $107 million in taxpayer dollars is being spent to lobby Austin politicians. With our new Lobbying Data feature, Texans can now see which organizations are hiring lobbyists, who they’re hiring, and how much they’re spending. In addition to pulling back the curtain on lobbying — the largest source of money and influence on Texas lawmakers — we have also divided the organizations hiring lobbyists into two categories: those who are taxpayer-funded and those who are privately-funded.
According to Ballotpedia.org, taxpayer-funded lobbying is defined as the practice of using funds that come directly or indirectly from taxpayers for political lobbying purposes. Most often, those lobbying efforts are focused on increasing spending and/or raising taxes on behalf of organizations that stand to benefit from additional funding. Think city councils or public schools.
During the last legislative session (2019), bills were filed by Texas Senator Bob Hall and Texas House Rep. Mayes Middleton to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying. It was deemed “priority legislation” by the Republican Party of Texas and approved by Governor Abbott. The Senate version of the bill was opposed by every Democrat and one Republican, Senator Kel Seliger. In the House, the bill was amended multiple times and ultimately failed on a bi-partisan vote. It is likely to be a hot topic when the legislature reconvenes in January.
Opponents of taxpayer-funded lobbying say that it is inherently unfair to require taxpayers to fund efforts to raise their taxes. They also argue that the funds spent on lobbying could be better spent on serving constituents and meeting local needs. An example would be a city council that hires lobbyists to oppose reductions in property taxes because that would result in less revenue to the city. Opponents of the practice suggest that the city council members should have spent the money on local police or roads instead of lobbyists, and that council members don’t need lobbyists to make their case. They point out that individual citizens often call their representatives or even travel to Austin to voice their opinions.
Those in favor of the practice say that organizations like city councils need to hire professional lobbyists in order to be fairly represented. Private corporations and other large entities are armed with lobbyists to support their interests in Austin. Supporters argue that in order for these taxpayer-funded organizations to have a fighting chance for tax dollars against well-funded corporations, they have to allocate some of their resources to lobbying lawmakers.
The first step to eliminate confusion is to establish terms. The definition of taxpayer-funded lobbying has been, frankly, a bit of a moving target in Texas politics. During the 2019 attempt to ban the practice, the Senate bill classified governmental entities (or organizations composed of primarily governmental entities) as taxpayer-funded. The Senate’s definition was then made more narrow by amendments in the House before the bill was ultimately defeated. Lawmakers have an interest in a narrow definition in order to increase their odds of passing legislation — in this, and many other instances.
At Transparency Texas, we’ve created a standardized definition of taxpayer-funded lobbying that we use when we categorize Lobbyist Clients. We classify three types of organizations who receive all or almost all of their funding from taxing authorities as “Taxpayer-Funded.” We include:
Our definition is slightly more broad than the one used in the bill that passed in the Senate, but still excludes many organizations that receive taxpayer money. We do not include companies that merely sell products or make profits from the government, even if those profits are substantial. For example, we would include a government contractor who makes red light cameras, but we would not include an office supply store that sells to the public but also has a contract to provide supplies to government offices, even if that store makes a substantial amount of money from the government contract. If we had chosen to include all companies and organizations that receive any funding from taxing authorities, that category would have been much larger.
We have intentionally made a clear and high standard for classifying an organization as taxpayer-funded. If you ever wonder why we’ve categorized an organization the way we have during your search, you can always reference our “How it Works” page.
Whether you support or oppose taxpayer-funded lobbying, it is important to have clear, easy access to the reported numbers. At Transparency Texas our mission is to bring you the answers you need about the money in Texas politics — including how your tax dollars are being spent. With our new feature, Texans can now see for themselves exactly who is influencing their representatives and how they are paying for it. Join us.
*This article was updated August 3, 2020.