Earlier this week, the Texas Freedom Caucus sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking that eight conservative priorities be added to the next special session’s agenda. Among the items urged was a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, which is perhaps the single most important item mentioned.
Local governments spend big to hire lobbyists whose only job is to push for higher taxes, more spending, and bigger government at the statehouse. These hired guns regularly work against conservative legislation and advocate for progressive causes.
In other words, governments are using our money against us.
As an example, taxpayer-funded lobbyists fought tooth-and-nail 2019’s signature property tax reform which let Texans vote on big tax hikes. Of the 30 people who spoke in opposition to the bill in committee, “all were either lobbyists—many of whom were paid to be there with taxpayer funds—or government employees.” Most of those who testified in favor of it were private people there on their own dime.
That’s not an isolated incident either. For instance, the city of Houston’s top intergovernmental relations chief has, for years, advocated against good government legislation, including bills to make government more transparent, to end forced annexation, and to ease local regulations that spike housing costs.
Taxpayer-funded lobbying costs Texans in another, too, and even more directly. Transparency USA estimates that local governments spent “nearly $75 million” this session to hire lobbyists. That’s tens of millions not available for police, potholes, and tax relief. It also likely doesn’t include the money spent on in-house lobby teams, like the Houston example above, or membership dues paid to third-party groups that employ lobbyists, like the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Counties, and the Texas Association of School Boards.
There are plenty of reasons for the Legislature to act, but perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to ban the practice is that virtually every Texan wants it stopped.
According to a February 2021 poll of 800-plus registered voters, conducted by WPA Intelligence, 86% of Texans oppose taxpayer-funded lobbying. The results mirror the findings from a similar survey conducted in 2019. They also match the Texas Republican primary election results in 2020 which showed a supermajority supporting the following ballot proposition: “Texas should ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying, which allows your tax dollars to be spent on lobbyists who work against the taxpayer.” (YES – 94.29%, NO – 5.71%)
It’s easy to see that taxpayer-funded lobbying is unpopular, costly, and a violation of public trust. But it’s also incompatible with our form of government.
Let’s remember that U.S. governance is founded on the consent of the governed, not the will of the government. This much is made clear in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which affirms the right of the people to petition their governors for a redress of grievances. Governments are not given this right. And it’s this distinction that should be remembered and reinforced against the intrusions of Texas local governments.
Texans stand to gain much from a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying. But before that can become a reality, it must be put on the agenda for this month’s special session and only the governor has the power to do that. He would be wise to do so, as it’s the key to so many other conservative victories.