Governmental extortion
July 7, 2014
by Ivan Raconteur

A report released last week by Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto reminded me once again why the curmudgeon will never get elected to any public office.

The report is the Local Government Lobbying Services Report, a comprehensive summary of the expenditures by local governments and their associations for lobbyists and lobbying for calendar year 2013.

According to Otto, the report is intended to inform Minnesota citizens and policy makers on the amount spent by local governments on lobbying services.

I would never make it in government. I am burdened by having a conscience, and that is apparently an impediment in government.

I do feel informed by this report, but what I mainly feel is angry.

Perhaps I am just naive, but I believe the people we elect through the democratic process should represent their constituents to the best of their ability based on the facts in each situation, not based on the highest bidder.

I believe legislation based on compensation is obscene, and an affront to taxpayers.

It is absolutely wrong for one unit of government to use taxpayers’ hard-earned money to lobby another unit of government (which is also supported by tax dollars) to take a particular action, or refrain from acting.

And yet, this kind of thing appears to be rampant, and it’s getting worse.

According to the 2013 report, local governments spent a total of $8,066,489 on lobbying activities in 2013. This represents an increase of $259,354, or 3.3 percent, over the amount spent on lobbying services in 2012.

Eighty-four local governments (three more than in 2012) reported that they directly employed staff or hired contract lobbyists in 2013.

These local governments spent a total of $3,853,075 on staff and contract lobbyists. This was $75,344, or 1.9 percent, less than in 2012.

In addition to the $3.9 million paid directly to staff and contract lobbyists, local governments paid dues of $10,967,446 in 2013 to local government associations that also represented their interests before legislative, administrative, or other governmental bodies.

According to the report, these associations spent $4,213,414 on lobbyists and lobbying in 2013. This represents an increase of 8.6 percent over 2012.

Of the $4.2 million spent on lobbyists and lobbying by these associations, $3,837,539 was funded exclusively through dues. This represents an increase of 9.4 percent over the $3,509,101 in association dues that were spent on lobbying activities in 2012.

Governmental associations can play a role in educating elected officials and public employees.

However, when they are using tax dollars to lobby in the interest of government entities, rather than the interest of taxpayers, we have a problem.

The whole system of government entities using tax money to lobby other government entities is like an elaborate protection system.

In effect, taxpayers are paying protection to one entity to try to convince another entity to do what it should presumably be doing in the first place.

If they weren’t part of the government, we might call the people extorting this money racketeers. Instead, we call them politicians. The terms are not as different as some might think.

Why should cities and counties have to lobby the state of Minnesota to do what the state should already be doing for its citizens?

Why should the state have to lobby the federal government?

Cities, counties, school districts, and even lowly townships, the most basic level of government, all fork over tax dollars to lobbyists, directly, or indirectly through their associations.

We are already paying taxes to each of these entities. Why should we have to pay more taxes to support lobbyists to get attention from our own representatives?

It’s a hell of a racket when one stops to think about it.

We have apparently allowed government bodies to convince us that if we want to get something for our tax dollars, we have to pay extra for it.

The whole system is outrageous, and it is just plain wrong.

It amounts to extortion being perpetrated by the very people we have elected to represent us.

In my innocence, I still believe elected officials should be accountable to their constituents.

Sadly, far too often, our public servants are serving their own interests instead of those of their constituents.

Politicians and lobbyists are getting rich, while citizens and taxpayers are getting the shaft.

To view the complete report, which includes tables and graphs, follow the link at www.herald-journal.com.

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