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Arizona government sector lobbying

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Taxpayer-funded lobbying is government to government lobbying. counties, cities, school districts, public facilities and associations of public employees frequently use public funds to influence legislation and appropriations at the state and federal levels.

This practice is controversial because public funds are spent to lobby for an agenda not subject to direct approval by voters, and outcomes may be contrary to taxpayers' benefit.

There are more than 900 registered government lobbyists in Arizona. Government lobbyists outnumber legislators by a ratio of 10:1.[1][2]

Lobbying by local entities

From 2000 to 2005, three counties—Maricopa, Pima, and Mohave—spent more than $3 million to lobby. Maricopa County lists some 85 lobbyists.[1]

Likewise, the cities of Tucson, Mesa, and Phoenix exhausted more than $2 million of taxpayer funds for lobbying purposes. The City of Tucson reports 71 registered lobbyists.[1]

State agency lobbying

During the same period, the Department of Transportation, State Parks, and the Governor’s Office spent more than $1.8 million to lobby. The Arizona Department of Public Safety lists 41 registered lobbyists on call.[1]

Constitutional concerns

The Goldwater Institute in Arizona sees several constitutional problems with government sector lobbying.[1]

According to the Institute, the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment are violated because government lobbying does not increase citizen participation, a premise of the First Amendment. Instead, "government sector lobbying pits the interests of government bodies against those of ordinary citizens."Government lobbying also violates the First Amendment principle of neutrality by allowing government to dictate what issues and viewpoints should predominate.[1]

As far as the Arizona Constitution is concerned, permitting unchecked spending violates the constitution’s requirement that spending serve a valid public purpose. Also, the state’s separation-of-powers doctrine aims to protect Arizonans from government branches conglomerating their power.[1]

The Goldwater Institute poses the following question: "Lobbying by separate arms of state government raises considerable constitutional questions: Why should government, itself a servant of the people, petition itself in the first place, when that right is traditionally held by the electorate?"[1]

Ethics concerns

The start of the 2006 legislative session began with a projected $1 billion budget surplus. A consortium of school districts immediately started working on attaining the largest possible piece of that surplus. The school districts--including Gilbert, Paradise Valley and Pendergast--hired two lobbyists to put their issues before the Arizona Legislature. The concern is that this is a distortion of the political process.[1]

During this time, 35 investigators examined the official conduct of county schools superintendent Sandra Dowling.[1] The probe regarded Dowling's bid process for lobbyists and whether she gave favors to friends and family. She was later indicted; the indictment focused on 25 areas of conduct, but notable was the alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars for lobbying.[1]

Disclosure and accuracy of data

The Secretary of State provides only nominal state-level data in this regard. Disclosure forms contain broad categories, which provide little detail to constituents about government lobbying activities. For example, in 2005, Tucson reported more than $264,000 in “other expenditures” related to lobbying. Additionally, membership dues in organizations that lobby (government sector lobbying associations), such as the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, are not reflected in the Secretary of State data.[1][3]

Much important lobbying information isn't even reported. In-house lobbying services, accrued through government departments such as "Government" and "External Affairs," are not always reflected in Secretary of State data. (Although sometimes, it is the only information reported, while external lobbying expenditures are not. See Discrepancy between reported and actual data below.) The Goldwater Institute notes that the expenses are not trivial: Tucson, for example, spent over $500,000 in 2005–2006 for intergovernmental expenses, while Phoenix spent over $1.3 million during the same time on its “intergovernmental programs."[1]

Discrepancy between reported and actual data

Most large government agencies do not report high-priced outside lobbyists on contracts. The Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, for example, uses two outside lobbyists to whom it pays a total of $210,000 annually. However, no expenses are listed in its annual report to the state.[3]

Some agencies list only in-house expenses. In 2009, Tempe reported about $42,000 of the salary of its staff lobbyist, as well as $1,000 for travel and lodging, but did not report the $96,900 it paid to outside lobbyist Michael Williams.[3]

When payments to outside lobbyists are reported, the figures can be misleading. Phoenix reported $192,109 in spending on lobbyists last year, including $77,700 for three outside lobbying firms. Those firms received significatly more according to city records at $310,800. The full cost of those contracts is not reported because the lobbyists do not spend all of their time talking to legislators, said Karen Peters, government relations director for the city.[3]

Government agencies reported about $1.97 million in lobbying expenses in 2009. The Goldwater Institute followed up on those filings, contacting dozens of government entities separately, and came up with a more accurate $5 million figure in annual state-level lobbying by government agencies. That figure is probably still low because many agencies did not respond to repeated requests for information.[3]

Opponents

U.S. House Representative from Arizona Jeff Flake (R) is vocal in his opposition to government sector lobbying.[4]

Senator Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, opposes government sector lobbying and had co-sponsored a resolution asking voters to ban lobbying by state agencies and local governments.[3] Pearce objects to lobbyists for cities, counties, school districts and universities being paid with taxpayer dollars to pressure lawmakers on policy and spending decisions.[3]

Taxpayer-funded lobbying associations

The following is a list of Arizona government sector lobbying associations by type:

City and municipal

County

Emergency services

Justice

Public Officials

Regional

School

Other

References