Your Taxes, Denver Lobbyist Funding – Pagosa Daily Post News Events & Video for Pagosa Springs Colorado

By D. Dowd Muska

The 2023 legislative session ended nearly a month ago, but Colorado affordable housing advocates are still reeling from a bitter defeat.

SB 213, the governor claimed, would provide “more housing options for every Colorado budget and every community, [and] reduce the costs that are driving Coloradans out of our homes and out of our neighborhoods.” Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, the Colorado Education Association and the Sierra Club were among the many supporters of the bill.

Leading the opposition to SB 213 was neither a courageous grassroots crusade nor a billionaire political gambler. It was the government itself, specifically, towns, cities, and counties. The executive director of the Colorado Municipal League called the legislation an “impressive overreach.” A coalition of nearly 30 mayors from the Denver metropolitan area announced their resistance. Pitkin County sent its manager to the capitol to express the hostility of the commissioners. Lone Tree, a small town in Douglas County, vociferously said the bill would silence “the voices of our residents” and ignore “previous decisions made by voters, by taking away their right to be heard in public hearings on issues of zoning”.

Who paid for all that pressure?

You did it.

State and local governments use three tools to influence the policymaking process. First, internal staff and resources, for example, officials testify during hearings, hold press conferences, issue press releases, write opinion pieces, and post on Facebook and Twitter. Second, even the smallest government entities often find that hiring a professional influencer, or an entire lobbying firm, can lead to significant legislative “wins,” such as obtaining special appropriations. Finally, “membership” organizations leverage tax revenue to “speak” for cities, counties, educators and government administrators, law enforcement professionals, etc.

Whatever form it takes, taxpayer-funded lobbying is wrong, because it causes citizens to fund “messages” they may oppose. As the US Supreme Court ruled in a 2018 decision, when the government forces to speak, “people are coerced into betraying their convictions,” and forcing “free and independent people to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning.”

The Southwest Public Policy Institute recently published a paper on intragovernmental advocacy in the eight states of the Southwestern United States. We found that Colorado is no different than Oklahoma, New Mexico, or California: Taxpayer-funded lobbying is commonplace. Battles over school choice, corporate welfare, criminal justice, environmental regulations, and many other issues of importance to everyday life are heavily influenced by public sector entities.

It is true that the movement to stop this misuse of tax dollars is associated with the right. But our research reveals that the left should also be concerned. As the crackdown on SB 213 demonstrates, the government is capable of deploying its considerable resources against the “progressive” agenda.

What can be done? Texas offers a national blueprint for banning taxpayer-funded lobbying. There, the statutes prohibit “a state agency” from using “appropriated monies” to “employ, as a regular full-time or part-time or contract employee, a person who must … register as a lobbyist.” In addition, “membership dues to an organization that pays part or all of the salary of a person who is required to…register as a lobbyist” is prohibited. And state agencies may not “attempt to influence the passage or defeat of a legislative measure,” although the use of “resources to provide public information or to provide information in response to a request” is understandably permitted. Unfortunately, efforts to apply the law to local governments have not been successful. (Unsurprisingly, the campaign is opposed by the Texas Association of County and District Clerks, the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas County Auditors Association, and the Texas Municipal League.)

In Colorado and across the American Southwest, it is time for good government activists concerned about the subversion of democracy through “dark money” to join with conservatives and libertarians to end taxpayer-funded lobbying. .

No matter what the issue, no matter what the bill, no matter what the ordinance, no matter what the regulation, intergovernmental advocacy is required speech and, as such, a violation of the First Amendment.

D. Dowd Muska is vice president for research at the Southwest Public Policy Institute, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in the American Southwest by developing, advocating, and advocating for sound public policy.

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