Texas House of Representatives Ethics Interim Report (2006)
On August 30, 2006, the House Sub-Committee on General Investigating and Ethics and the House Sub-Committee in the Texas House of Representatives jointly published their report on government sector lobbying. The committees reported that publicly funded lobbying activities did present ethical problems, but that this did not warrant a ban on the activities.
The joint committee agreed with concerned citizens that there is a conflict of interest between citizens and the lobbying their tax money pays for. For example, the study notes that government sector lobbying leads to bigger government, while "public opinion surveys show that Texans are broadly and increasingly in favor of more efficient and accountable government"
However, the committee concludes that it would not be prudent to place a ban on government sector lobbying because:
- It believes that the principle of local control would be violated by such a ban.
- Citizens should expect their officials to advocate for policies they feel would benefit their constituency.
- The speed of the legislative process makes it so that an "on-the-ground presence" in Austin is "vital" for providing input to legislators in a relevant time frame.
Instead, the report sees the problem as stemming from a flawed disclosure system and gives recommendations for improving the reporting of such activities. These recommendations generally entail stricter reporting guidelines and enforcement of them, and reporting should be full and open.
Flawed disclosure system
The joint committee's report notes three areas where reporting is flawed. This is not the first time this concern has been expressed. These are inadequacies in the registration process, confusion regarding the expenses and reporting of expenses incurred by officials, and funds spent on association dues.
Report methodology and general findings
The report surveyed the following entities in Texas:
- 61 cities: The report states that several other sources show Texas cities as having in their payroll over 140 registered lobbyist. The contracts for these lobbyist are estimated as being as much as $9 million annually.
- 105 school districts:
- 16 counties out of 254 total counties: Some reports have Texas county-related entities (such as chambers of commerce) as employing 100 registered lobbyists for as much as $5 million. Individual counties allegedly pay more than 25 registered lobbyists close to $1 million.
The survey included eight questions. These were to the effect of:
- Does your county/city/ISD currently have a contract with registered outside lobbyists?
- Does your county/city/ISD pay dues to any organization which acts on your behalf concerning issues before the Texas Legislature? What are these?
- How many county/city/ISD employees as a part of their job description may be requested to prepare materials used for lobbying, or engage in lobbying activities themselves?
- Does you county/city/ISD currently detail in your budget the contract with a registered outside lobbying and statewide organizations?
- Do county/city/ISD employees or officials have expense accounts for expenses?
- Was an estimate of travel and other expenses to and from Austin between January 2003 through August 2005 reported for government accounts?
- Was an estimate of travel and other expenses to and from Austin between January 2003 through August 2005 reported for employees and elected officials?
- How does your county/city/ISD track, report and disclose lobbying?
The findings of the survey are summarized below.
The survey conducted by the joint committee included a sample of cities, school districts and counties. The results to questions 1, 2 and 4 are summarized below.
- 40 cities out of 61 surveyed have contracts with outside lobbyists.
- 55 cities belong to a government sector lobbying association.
- 26 cities detail their lobbying in the budget.
- Two school districts out of 105 surveyed answered "yes" to the question "Does your county/city/ISD currently have a contract with registered outside lobbyists?" -- these were Crane ISD and Texas City ISD.
- 90 school districts belong to government sector lobbying associations, as indicated by their "yes" answer to question 2 (Does your county/city/ISD pay dues to any organization which acts on your behalf concerning issues before the Texas Legislature? What are these?).
- Only 11 school districts detail lobbying expenditures in their budgets.
- Five counties out of 16 surveyed admitted having contracts with outside lobbyists. These were Bexar County, El Paso, Harris, Nueces, and Travis.
- All 16 counties belong to government sector lobbying associations.
- Six counties have budgets which reflect their lobbying activities.
Texas Local Government Code
There are several sections of Texas law that are relevant in discussing ethical issues regarding government sector lobbying.
Texas Local Government Code section 89.002 states, "The commissioners court may spend, in the name of the county, money from the county's general fund for membership fees and dues of a nonprofit state association of counties if ... neither the association nor an employee of the association directly or indirectly influences or attempts to influence the outcome of any legislation pending before the legislature." This prohibits county governments from using county dues to pay association dues if the association influences or attempts to influence the outcome of any pending legislation.
Texas Local Government Code section 556.0055 prohibits the use of state funds to pay for lobbying expenses incurred by the recipient of state funds. This is relevant in cases involving school districts: because they receive a significant percentage of their budget directly from the state, as contrasted with local taxes and fees, the reporting of lobbying activities and expenditures must be stringent.
Texas Local Government Code section 305.026(d) specifically allows other local governments to use taxpayer funds to pay dues to certain statewide associations which engage in lobbying.
Texas Local Government Code section 305.005(f)(3) states that lobbyists must disclose on whose behalf they lobby as well as who reimburses them. Because of this language, lobbyists hired by a chamber of commerce will register both the chamber and the local government, even if the local government has no official knowledge that they are being represented. This confuses the reporting of lobbying activities.
- House Committee on Investigation and Ethics with House Committee on Public Education , Interim Report 2006: Investigating Expenditures of Taxpayer Money by Local Government and School Boards to Lobby the Legislature
- Americans for Prosperity, "AFP Supports Open Government HB 1517," April 24, 2007