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Funding the opposition


Stuart A. Jolly December 6th, 2007

Some Oklahoma lawmakers are trying to keep secrets from leaking out of the state Capitol. Behind closed doors and with no accountability, local governments and state agencies are hiring lobbyists to p...

Some Oklahoma lawmakers are trying to keep secrets from leaking out of the state Capitol. Behind closed doors and with no accountability, local governments and state agencies are hiring lobbyists to push for more spending and increased taxes. But legislators, agencies and other government entities don't want you to know how much of the public's dime they are spending on these taxpayer-funded lobbyists.

 

Oklahomans expect taxes to fund necessary services such as law enforcement, education and roads. Many residents would be outraged to learn that their taxes are being used to hire lobbyists to go to Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C., to ask for higher spending and taxes.

 

Taxpayer-funded lobbying has no place in our government. It allows government entities to drown out genuine taxpayer opposition to increased spending and push for ever-increasing government interference in private citizens' lives. This problem is made worse by the lack of transparency in state lobbying records. We know through federal disclosure that universities, the state government, Tulsa and Oklahoma City combined to spend more than $1 million on lobbyists in Washington, D.C., last year, and almost $7 million over the past eight years.

 

Many other states require organizations to disclose how much they pay lobbyists under contract, but Oklahoma does not. This means taxpayers do not even know how much of their money is being used to lobby for higher taxes and increased growth of government. Based on lobbying disclosure laws, The Center for Public Integrity ranked Oklahoma 42nd out of all 50 states. That ranking puts Oklahoma dead last compared to all of its neighbors, with our closest compatriot in nondisclosure being Arkansas " a full 12 spots ahead!

 

Most Oklahomans don't realize they work more than half the year to pay for the visible costs of federal, state and local government spending, as well as the hidden costs of debt and regulation. They at least deserve to know how much of the tax money they send to the state goes into lobbying for even more spending and higher taxes.

 

What we do know from the Ethics Commission is that approximately 52 government entities around the state are sending close to 120 lobbyists to knock on doors in the Capitol. If the programs they represent require additional funding or new tax dollars, let the results speak for themselves. They should not hire lobbyists to convince lawmakers to ignore their constituents who foot the bill.

 

No one is suggesting that governmental agencies should not speak to legislators or discuss specific legislation. Of course they can, but to hire a lobbyist to do this is unethical and fiscally irresponsible. Americans for Prosperity believes in representation by our elected officials "¦ and not by lobbyists who are paid with our tax dollars.

 

Lawmakers must reform transparency laws so taxpayers know how much money is used to lobby the state government, possibly on tax policies that run counter to their interests. Local governments should begin exercising restraint and stop using tax dollars to lobby the state and federal governments. It's your money.

 

For more information about the problem of secretive taxpayer-funded lobbying, visit www.AFPOK.org or read Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma's new study, "Keeping Oklahoma Competitive: Prosperity in the Sooner State."

 

Jolly is Oklahoma director of Americans for Prosperity and a retired Army lieutenant colonel. 

 
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