Benjamin Barr

Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Implications of Taxpayer-funded Lobbying

Posted on January 23, 2007 | Type: Policy Report | Author: Benjamin Barr
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The State of Arizona is lobbying itself. Whether it is for all-day kindergarten, expansive redevelopment powers, or a host of other issues, government entities are exploring and acting on their lobbying options. The consequence: Government interests become pitted against taxpayers’ interests. From 2000 to 2005, three counties—Maricopa, Pima, and Mohave—spent more than $3 million to lobby. During the same period, the Department of Transportation, State Parks, and the Governor’s Office spent more than $1.8 million to lobby. Likewise, the cities of Tucson, Mesa, and Phoenix exhausted more than $2 million of taxpayer funds for lobbying purposes.

Arizona governments have a veritable army of lobbyists. Maricopa County lists some 85 lobbyists. The City of Tucson reports 71 registered lobbyists. The Arizona Department of Public Safety lists 41 registered lobbyists on call. In total, there are more than 900 registered government lobbyists for the public entities tracked in this study; by contrast, the Arizona Legislature has 90 members. Therefore, in Arizona, government lobbyists outnumber legislators by a ratio of 10:1.

Taxpayer-funded lobbying—government bodies lobbying other government bodies—distorts the democratic process by supplanting the voice of citizens with that of the state. Instead of interacting with citizen lobbyists, legislators contend with powerful voices from other regiments of government, each clamoring to promote its own interests, which are regularly and demonstrably at odds with citizens’ interests. Lobbying with taxpayer dollars inevitably promotes government growth.

From a constitutional perspective, taxpayer-funded lobbying has scant support. The First Amendment begins with the premise that the cornerstone of a healthy republic is citizen participation. Instead of bolstering citizen participation in government, taxpayer-funded lobbying pits the interests of government bodies against those of ordinary citizens. Lobbying by government also violates the established First Amendment principle of neutrality, which proscribes government from dictating which issues and viewpoints predominate.

Taxpayer-funded lobbying also runs afoul of the Arizona Constitution. Permitting unchecked spending violates the constitution’s requirement that spending serve a valid public purpose. Also, the state’s firm separation-of-powers doctrine aims to protect Arizonans from government branches conglomerating their power. Unfortunately, the state’s judiciary has undermined the textual protection guaranteed to Arizonans.

Other states, such as Florida, have recognized the growing problem of government lobbying and are initiating reform. This paper focuses on two paths of reform to control government lobbying—disclosure and prohibition. Ultimately, the principles of limited government require Arizonans to stop government lobbying entirely, ensuring that the right to lobby remains seated with the citizenry.

Read Your Tax Dollars at Work here

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