Taxpayer-funded lobbying was a subject of discussion at today’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, with the commission passing by a vote of three to two a resolution expressing the commission’s opposition to a bill under consideration in the Kansas Legislature. Video is here or at the end of this article.
The bill of interest is SB 109, described here. It states “No public funds may be used directly or indirectly for lobbying. No public funds may be used to pay membership dues to an association that is engaged in lobbying the state. Public funds shall not be used for the purpose of employing or contracting for the service of any person whose duty and responsibility includes lobbying.”
But if we must have taxpayer-funded lobbying, let’s make the best of it. Communications to and from a local governmental body and its lobbyist are open to the public under the Kansas Open Records Act. The documents might be testimony the lobbyist will deliver, reports covering the status and impact of bills, and other matters.
As these documents are open under the Kansas Open Records Act, I propose this: Instead of requiring citizens to ask for these records, possibly paying fees to obtain what they’re already paying for, why don’t local governments post these documents immediately on their websites?
Citizens could then benefit from the activities of the lobbyists they’re paying for. They could learn more about legislation as it works its way through the process.
Very importantly, citizens could judge whether the positions taken by the government lobbyists are aligned with their policy preferences.
If the actions taken by taxpayer-funded lobbyists are truly in the public interest, you’d think that cities, counties, and school boards would already be making this information easily available. In any case, there should be no resistance to starting this program immediately. Today, as the legislature is currently in session.
If any local governmental units feel that posting documents on a website is too much of a burden, here’s my offer: When your lobbyist sends you an email with testimony, legislative reports, or anything else, just forward the email to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll take care of the rest.
Here’s one such example: Kansas Legislative Session 2013 — Week 5: An update on the Kansas Legislature from Sedgwick County’s lobbyist.