It’s passed the Senate multiple times but has not yet been able to clear the House hurdle. In 2021, it was postponed on the floor by former Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) — who has since started and stopped two bouts of lobbying after leaving the Legislature — on the evening of a bill deadline. Paddie, last session’s chairman of the State Affairs Committee, had watered down the Senate bill carried by then-Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) in his committee.
Paddie then took the bill out of Middleton’s hands and killed it. Two years prior, Middleton killed his own bill after Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) successfully tacked on an amendment that applied the bill only to the 20 most populated counties. Now-Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) was a joint author on that 2019 legislation when he was chair of the State Affairs Committee.
This year, Middleton, now a senator, has again filed a taxpayer-funded lobbying ban for all political subdivisions. Rep. Ellen Troxclair (R-Austin) filed an identical version in the House.
Under the bill, all localities would be prohibited from using taxpayer dollars to pay for lobbying activities. It’d also create a civil cause of action for which any taxpayer or resident within the political subdivision could sue the governmental entity. The provision also carries a “loser pays” mechanism, meaning if the individual succeeds in his suit, the political subdivision must pay attorneys fees and court costs.
The legislation would also prohibit any county judge or commissioners from using public dollars in serving on any association. The provision is aimed at entities like the Texas Municipal League (TML) or Texas Association of Counties, bodies funded by public dollars from the localities they represent that lobby the Legislature on issues.
“For too long, your hard-earned tax dollars have been diverted to the pockets of Austin lobbyists that then lobby against both parents and taxpayers,” Middleton said in a statement back in November after filing the bill.
“Last session, taxpayer-funded lobbyists undermined parents by fighting against the ban on critical race theory in Texas classrooms, opposing the Protect Girls’ Sports Bill (which prohibits boys from playing in girls sports), and using parents’ own tax dollars to lobby against parents having a greater voice in their children’s education. Further, we have seen taxpayer-funded lobbyists go on the attack against parents. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) asked the Biden administration to investigate parents as domestic terrorists for showing up to school board meetings.”
About five months after an official with the NSBA likened angry parents to “domestic terrorists” in a letter to the White House, the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) — another taxpayer-funded lobby group — dropped its membership in the national organization.
“Heavily utilized by larger, liberal cities, this spending is not only lavish, it’s also creating an uneven playing field for smaller communities here at the Capitol,” Troxclair, the former Austin city councilwoman, said in a release. She stated that cities and counties spent upwards of $75 million during 2021 lobbying the state Legislature.
“When the City of Austin spends $1 million per year on contract lobbyists to support their woke agenda, clog committee hearings, wine and dine legislators, and kill conservative bills, it becomes harder for the priorities of rural communities and everyday Texans to get through the process,” she added.
Middleton, Troxclair, and those on their side argue that local officials should not use tax dollars to pay for official lobbying activities; local officials testifying at the Capitol on their own time does not count.
Those opposed to a ban say it would inhibit local governments from pushing their own priorities at the Legislature on behalf of their constituents.
It largely boils down to political division on issues. The faces of taxpayer-funded lobbying, at whom the legislation is largely aimed, are the big blue cities. The City of Houston has earmarked $900,000 for lobbying costs in its 2023 budget, San Antonio pays $556,000 in dues to an array of associations, including $66,720 to TML.
But those big cities aren’t the only ones paying TML for its services. The organization has nearly 1,200 membership cities with less than 100,000 in population.
While the issue is not on the party’s list of eight priorities, it’s still on the RPT’s wishlist. RPT Chair Matt Rinaldi told The Texan, “As our platform states, ‘we oppose using tax dollars to hire lobbyists’ and are encouraged by Sen. Middleton’s and Rep. Troxclair’s bill to ban this practice. We support their efforts and look forward to the bill’s passage.”
Middleton’s bill has been referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee, and Troxclair’s will likely be referred to the House State Affairs Committee once the body reaches it in the pecking order.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.