Lobbyists Work on the Government -- And for It

Posted on January 28, 2003 | Type: In the News | Author: Laura Knaperek
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Dear Laura:

In the hearings conducted at the Legislature, almost all that attend and testify are individuals who represent agencies and departments of government. This appears to be a violation of the separation-ofpowers doctrine that is supposed to be for the preservation of liberty of citizens. What impact do such activities have on legislation? And are we, the citizens, paying for government lobbyists to work for the interests of these same agencies and departments?

- Ken from Mesa

Dear Ken:

As you know, there are three branches of government - legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative votes on policy, the executive administers that policy, and the judicial determines its constitutionality. Arizona publicly funds lobbyists that represent the executive and the judicial branches, including school boards, boards and commissions, cities and towns, counties, state agencies and the courts.

Lobbyists by definition are paid to educate, persuade, and represent the interest they work for. These folks are usually full-time employees or on contract for a particular issue. Sometimes both types are hired.

Surprisingly there are times when one agency can have three or more lobbyists, plus the governor's appointed lobbyist working on the same issue. Legislators can easily be inundated with one-sided information, which shifts more power to the executive branch.

A lot of my time as a legislator was spent managing public and private lobbyists, and special interest phone and e-mail trees. Rarely did a typical citizen call my office or write a letter concerning a piece of legislation, while phone and e-mail trees packed the lines and the computer. A public lobbyist almost always prompts phone and e-mail trees, causing frustration and misinformation to flourish.

On the flip side, public lobbyists are helpful and informative. They provide a number of services, including timely answers that help legislators to be more productive and prepared, and they help with constituent work. Their institutional knowledge can be priceless in a process that moves very quickly and takes no prisoners.

Legislation has been introduced over the years to forbid the use of public lobbyists, and talk is it will be introduced again. But with so many new legislators needing so much information, throwing the baby out with the bath water may not be the answer. So, what is?

Newly elected Rep. Mark Thompson, R-Tempe, believes that government entities should appoint online staff to perform the duties of a lobbyist - not designate a special position for lobbying. "I receive good, factual information from staff," he says. "Lobbyists should be reserved for the private sector only; that way tax dollars won't be used to pit one interest against another. It is my job as an elected representative to choose what side of an issue is best."

Others have suggested full financial disclosure. Arizona law mandates that private lobbyists file financial disclosure forms. So should government agencies. The public has the right to know how many tax dollars are going to lobbyists.

Budget crisis means opportunities

It has been 10 years since Arizonans talked about changing the tax structure. Ironically, that period marked the last recession. The same can be said for the way Arizona does business. So it was interesting to note that last Wednesday Executive Education and the ASU College of Business hosted the first in a series of annual workshops to bridge academic research to Arizona's business community.

The workshop was called "Fiscal Policy and Arizona Economic Development: A Comparison with Other States," and it got us talking. The Goldwater Institute will get you talking, too. It just published a report that promises 42 ideas on how to encourage economic growth and enhance freedom.

It is also planning a workshop for the first week of February to discuss the budget and the tax structure. Current and former legislators will present as well as Steve Moore, president of Club for Growth.

Presenting ideas and talking about them is the first step to finding a solution. Analyzing all points of view is the second step. And finally, as Aristotle said, "Those who act receive the prizes."

Arizona can use a prize right about now. To get an online copy of the Goldwater Institute's 42 Ideas, go to goldwaterinstitute.org.

Send questions to former East Valley legislator Laura Knaperek to asklaura@aztrib.com or P.O. Box 1547, Mesa AZ 85211.

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