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Texas lawsuit on government sector lobbying

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In October 2005, Williamson County taxpayers Peggy Venable, Janice Brauner and Judy Morris filed a lawsuit against the Texas Association of Counties. The petitioners cited Texas Local Government Code statute 89.002, which prohibits counties from paying dues to an organization that attempts to influence state government. The 277th Judicial District Court in Williamson ruled in 2007 that TAC had been operating outside the law.[1]

The decision came down against the Texas Association of Counties, in particular in February 28, 2008, when Williamson County served an order against the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) commanding them to refrain from lobbying using dues paid by counties.[2] However, Venable has stated that she hopes the ruling is the start of a trend towards further skepticism regarding government sector lobbying.[3]

Texas Local Government Code

The text of Texas Local Government Code statute 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 the 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 was the foundation of the taxpayers' arguments.[3]

Outcomes

After the judge found that TAC has been in violation of the law by using association dues paid by Texas counties in their advocacy and lobby work, “TAC realized they were breaking the law and, after we filed the lawsuit, the organization claimed they were no longer collecting dues,” said plaintiff Peggy Venable.[4]

Subsequently, Judge Ken Anderson determined that if TAC segregated their funds, they could use non-public funds to lobby. Taxpayers did not consider this a victory but a loophole; however, TAC paid the legal fees for the plaintiffs.

However, the organization still claims to represent counties. They are required, however, to lobby from funds they receive from other sources - primarily contractors and vendors doing business with school districts. TAC may be able to segregate their dues as they continue to collect large fees from counties, and other local government entities and organizations are openly using tax dollars to hire lobbyists.[4] While not collecting dues, TAC collected well over $500,000 in fees from Williamson County during the time of the lawsuit.[4] Therefore, Venable worried, "This could be a hollow victory for taxpayers."[5]

At least one county rescinded its membership from the organization because of the lawsuit. However, they resumed paying TAC dues after the lawsuit ended.[6]

See also

External link

References

  1. Texas Magazine, Fmr. State Rep. Fred Hill now well-paid by taxpayers to lobby, 02/03/2009
  2. AFP Foundation, "Taxpayers Win One for the Gipper; Texas Association of Counties Loses Lawsuit," February 28, 2008
  3. 3.0 3.1 [1]
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 AFP Foundation, "Taxpayers Win One for the Gipper; Texas Association of Counties Loses Lawsuit," February 28, 2008
  5. AFP Foundation, "Taxpayers win lawsuit against Texas Association of Counties," October 19, 2007
  6. AFP Foundation, "Harris County Takes Unprecedented Step by Pulling Out of Texas Association of Counties"