PHOENIX -- A Goldwater Institute study released today reveals that government lobbyists in Arizona outnumber legislators 10-1. The report reveals how much money is spent on taxpayer-funded lobbying, that is, the practice of government agencies hiring lobbyists to promote their agendas. Author and Goldwater Institute constitutional policy analyst Benjamin Barr offers two paths to reform: disclosure and prohibition.
Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Implications of Taxpayer-funded Lobbying tracks Arizona's public lobbying expenditures from 2000-2005, and finds Arizona government bodies spent more than $10 million in taxpayer funds on lobbying activities during that time. The Department of Transportation alone spent more than $1.3 million.
Government lobbying is toxic to representative democracy, says Goldwater Institute Chairman Tom Patterson. It distorts the democratic process by pitting government interests against those of citizens. The United States and Arizona constitutions protect the right of citizens to petition their government. Mr. Patterson continued, Letting government agents lobby with taxpayer funds, however, drowns out the voices of regular citizens, putting private citizens at a distinct disadvantage.
The report includes a list of Arizona state agencies that employ more than 900 registered government lobbyists. Government agencies from the Department of Education to the Board of Barbers hire lobbyists. Cities and counties also use registered lobbyists, with Maricopa County, the city of Tucson, and Phoenix listing 85, 71, and 43, respectively.
Your Tax Dollars at Work also examines the effects of government lobbying on the democratic process. In particular, the report discusses the implications of requiring taxpayers to fund advocacy they might not otherwise support. Mr. Barr uses the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) as an example of this conflict. In 2003, the ASBA spent over $200,000 on lobbying expenditures. The association actively lobbies against school choice programs and has even brought suit against tuition scholarship organizations. Meanwhile, public opinion polls show 90 percent of Arizonans support these programs.
More than 10 states have considered reforms to eliminate or reduce taxpayer-funded lobbying. Your Tax Dollars at Work explores two such reforms that have been implemented in other states. Washington State adopted a Public Disclosure Act, which requires detailed financial reporting on all public lobbying activity. Florida, meanwhile, has taken a more aggressive approach by prohibiting state entities from using public funds for lobbying purposes altogether.
Mr. Barr says, Government officials should be allowed to testify or share information with other branches of government, but they should not be permitted to hire lobbyists to influence and mold public policy. While there are different models to consider, the best way forward is clear. True reform requires the outright prohibition of government bodies lobbying with taxpayer dollars.
Download Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Implications of Taxpayer-funded Lobbying here.