Shea introduces legislation to eliminate taxpayer-funded lobbyists

Rep. Matt Shea has introduced legislation he says will save millions of dollars by prohibiting state agencies from hiring taxpayer-funded lobbyists to influence decisions at the Legislature.

On Thursday, Shea introduced House Bill 2112, also known as the “Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Reform Act.” The legislation would prohibit state agencies from entering into contractual agreements for lobbying activities. Current law prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used for lobbying, however, Shea says the exceptions are so broad that it is an ineffective restraint. His proposal would add new restrictions so that only the state agency’s elected officials, appointed officials, director or deputy directors could make requests to the Legislature instead of lobbyists.

“It’s a completely crazy idea that state agencies are using tax dollars to hire lobbyists to persuade the Legislature to give them more tax dollars. It’s a complete conflict of interest and a fleecing of the taxpayers,” said Shea, R-Spokane Valley. “We should be talking directly to the agency directors, not paid lobbyists. We should be funding more teachers, law enforcement officers and protecting our residential home care centers from closure – not giving money to agencies to hire lobbyists, especially when the state budget is in such deep trouble. The millions of dollars that could be saved by eliminating state agency lobbyists could go to pay for essential state services.”

Shea said it’s not fair that citizens who participate in the political process are forced to compete with public agencies that are funded with their tax dollars.

“It’s becoming all too common that citizens come to Olympia to testify on legislation and when they’re finished, an agency lobbyist paid with that citizen’s tax dollars steps up and argues against their position. I agree with Thomas Jefferson, who once said, ‘To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.’ Taxpayer-funded lobbying is an offense against citizens and a misuse of their dollars. It needs to be eliminated,” said Shea.

A report by the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based think tank, discovered $42 million was spent on taxpayer-funded lobbying between 2000 and 2009, with the University of Washington spending the most – nearly $1.7 million for lobbying efforts.

“As the state budget has gotten even tighter, we’re hearing reports of state agencies spending even more taxpayer dollars on lobbyists’ efforts to keep the Legislature from cutting government programs. That’s not how the state should be spending its money,” noted Shea.

The Freedom Foundation also uncovered $4.6 million in lobbyist expenses that were not reported by various public agencies. On April 21, the state Public Disclosure Commission fined Sound Transit $15,000 for failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying expenses as required by law. While Shea’s measure only addresses state agency lobbying, it includes tighter reporting requirements and penalties.

“There are some state agencies that are not following the rules. I have a problem with that and I know taxpayers are concerned as well. So this measure holds state agencies and directors accountable,” added Shea.

Shea said as budget writers use the special session to find more efficiencies in the crafting of a 2011-13 state operating budget, his measure offers another mechanism to provide sustainable savings.

“Outside of Olympia, people are struggling to pay the bills and they are desperately seeking jobs. Yet, inside Olympia, there are 34 different tax increase bills proposed in the House to take more of their money at a time when public agencies are spending millions of citizens’ tax dollars on lobbyists. There’s something incredibly wrong with this picture,” said Shea. “Citizens have told us they want reforms in how state government spends its money. This measure would help to enact some of those reforms and we need to pass it immediately.”

The bill has been referred to the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee for further consideration.

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Washington State House Republican Communications