Bearing Witness: Senate Bill 1879

This month, TPPF’s James Quintero testified before the Senate Committee on Local Government in support of Senate Bill 1879, a bill to broaden the scope of what governmental entities must disclose as it relates to money being spent on directly or indirectly influencing the outcome of legislation. The bill has been fully passed by the Texas Senate and has not yet been referred to a committee.

Below are James’ prepared remarks delivered orally to the committee.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee—

My name is James Quintero and I represent the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I am here to testify in support of Senate Bill 1879.

In 2019, the Texas Legislature took a big step to improve taxpayer-funded lobbying transparency. The body passed bipartisan legislation (HB 1495) to require certain political subdivisions to include a line-item in their proposed budgets that would allow the public to evaluate the relationship between actual and projected expenditures for activities related to “directly or indirectly influencing or attempting to influence the outcome of legislation or administrative action, as those terms are defined in Section 305.002” of the Government Code.

The new disclosure requirements have enabled the public to attain a somewhat better grasp of the situation. However, the law was not perfect and today more reforms are needed still to give Texans the transparency they deserve.

To illustrate the point, I’d like to share a recent experience I had with you.

In January, I began collecting lobbying expenditure data from the budgets of sizeable cities and counties pursuant to HB 1495. I had some success, but not every jurisdiction had the data in its budget as required by law. Just so you know, I surveyed about six-dozen or so different entities and I would venture a guess that about one-fourth did not have the required information.

Where the data was missing, I sent a PIA request to the city or county’s PIO officer. I sent one such request to the city of Tyler.

In response, the city of Tyler initially sent me information that it should have had in its budget showing its lobbying expenditures with Focused Advocacy and the Texas Municipal League for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Shortly after the initial response, a city representative sent me a follow-up email to say that the TML expenses were unrelated to lobbying. Their source? TML.

As you’ll note in your hand-out, the city representative states: “…TML said that their purpose is not lobbying, but rather information and collaboration between cities. Their attorneys said that our dues to them do NOT fall under HB 1495.”

To supplement her comments, the city’s representative shared a memo written by TML attorneys that offers this: “TML member service fees are not spent to influence legislation. As such, the League’s interpretation is that member service fees are not required to be included in the city’s budget comparison under [the new law].”

I’ve been around long enough to know that TML lobbies. It takes positions for and against bills. It employs registered lobbyists. The entity itself is a registered lobbyist with the Texas Ethics Commission.

To suggest that it is not an advocacy organization or that it does not spend public tax dollars to lobby is not truthful, nor is it consistent with the spirit of the law passed last session. Which is another reason why the committee should look favorably on SB 1879.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to answering any questions that you may have.

For more on taxpayer-funded lobbying, click here.