Wyoming Liberty Group
by Anthony McConnell
The term “lobbying” conjures all kinds of images — backroom deals, large corporations spending millions to influence the legislative process and Washington fat cats lining their pockets, but what few realize it that one of the largest lobbying powers is the government itself.
Government on government or “taxpayer funded lobbying” is a growing and often overlooked aspect of lobbying, according to a recent study by the Pacific Research Institute, which ranked Wyoming at the bottom of the heap along with West Virginia and New Hampshire in lobbying disclosure laws. Wyoming earned this ranking mainly because of a law that exempts all government officials from having to disclose information about their lobbying practices and its “sparse requirement for disclosure” of all people lobbying the state government.
While private sector lobbyists must report their spending and register with the state, government officials, such as city council members, county commissioners, school board members, do not have to have to follow the same rules. This means there is a lack of accountability and transparency when it comes to tax dollars being used for lobbying.
This exemption is apparently not enough because several governmental entities employ professional lobbyists in addition to their members direct lobbying activities. Of the more than 350 lobbyists registered with the state more than 60 represent either governing bodies, government agencies or government funded groups such as, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities whose members include 99 incorporated towns and cities in the state, Wyoming Association of County Officials, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Wyoming Association of School Administrators and the Wyoming Association of School Boards — all of which receive dues paid for by tax dollars.
For some this still isn’t enough lobbying power. For example, the Town of Jackson Hole and the Jackson Hole Airport, a tax supported facility, both employ two professional lobbyists. Professional lobbyist fees range few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
The study concluded that even in the states that ranked high on the list such as Connecticut and Indiana there is still a great deal of improvement needed in the level of transparency when it comes to taxpayer funded lobbying. States like Wyoming that have exemptions for lobbying government by officials need to revamp their laws to require government officials to register as lobbyists and disclose how much in tax dollars is being spent on lobbying efforts.
After all, the more transparent the government the more accountable it is to the people.