Imagine owning a business and entering into a contract with a vendor. As you prepare to sign the contract, the vendor puts forward one final stipulation. He wants you to hire an employee with the sole mission of perpetually negotiating with you to change the terms of the contract to better favor the vendor. You will essentially be paying someone to negotiate on behalf of your counterparty. This makes no sense, and no self-respecting business owner would sign that contract.
Just as this concept isn’t utilized in the business world, it shouldn’t have a home in government either. To that end, state policy appears to prohibit state agencies from using the funding they receive from the Legislature to pay for a lobbyist. This policy reflects an important concept: It’s wrong for government to make you pay the salaries of those who have a vested interest in making you pay even more in taxes or fees.
But at last count, the policy hasn’t kept about 23 state government entities from employing professional contract lobbyists. Agencies may hire lobbyists with funds that are not appropriated by the Legislature. The Legislature appropriates less than half the funds spent by state government. This provides many opportunities for state entities to find non-appropriated money for lobbyists.
These agencies and those in the Legislature who defend the practice do so on the premise that non-appropriated money somehow isn’t the taxpayers’ money because it may have originated from fees rather than taxes. I personally think that all money spent by state government is the taxpayers’ money regardless if it originates from taxation or from a government-mandated fee.
In addition to the 23 state government entities that have hired contract lobbyists, about 27 local or regional government entities and government funded associations, and even one out-of-state government entity, also employ a contract lobbyist. In the collective, this represents a significant government subsidy of the professional lobbying industry.
During the past few years, free market think tanks such as Americans for Prosperity, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and a handful of dedicated legislators have been attempting to stop the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying by state government entities. This year I worked with Sen. Anthony Sykes to sponsor House Bill 2537, which would have put a stop to the practice and ensure that lobbyists once cut off of government funding couldn’t be hired as state employees in the role of lobbyist or “liaison” to the Legislature.
The bill won the approval of the Government Modernization Committee. Our success was quite temporary as the bill hit a buzzsaw of bipartisan opposition when we took it out to the House floor, with Rep. Mike Reynolds leading the debate against the proposal by specifically expressing opposition to a part of the reform prohibiting lobbyists from going to work for the state. The bill was soundly defeated by a vote of 30 to 64. Our coalition of 30 included 26 Republican and 4 Democrats with the balance of the House either voting against the bill or not voting.
This defeat ensures the continuation of the current status-quo by which your taxpayer dollars fund the private lobbying industry in their all-too-frequent effort to either expand the size and reach of government or oppose the reforms that would streamline and make more efficient.
Until our reform becomes law, we always will face an uphill climb in the endeavor to restore the balance of power in favor of the taxpayer and away from the bureaucracies.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at email@example.com.