This new research pulls back the curtain on the scope taxpayer-funded lobbying—the harmful process by which state agencies and local governments spend public money to lobby other government entities, growing the size and cost of government.
“Taxpayers should be outraged that their money is being used against them,” said Nathan Benefield, Commonwealth Foundation’s senior vice president. “Taxpayer-funded lobbying is a vicious cycle that harms everyone—except the lobbying industry and the bureaucracy.”
Taxpayer-funded lobbying occurs when government entities—including boroughs, cities, counties, school districts, and state agencies—hire contract lobbyists or pay dues to lobbying groups to lobby other areas of government. These lobbyists and associations use this public funding to advocate for more government spending, which leads directly to the need for tax hikes.
View or download the reports:
- Finds 619 local governments spent $24.1 million on lobbying associations (2017–2020)
- Finds 26 government entities spent $18 million on contract lobbyists (2007–2020)
Below is a partial list of agencies and local governments that spent the most tax dollars on lobbying, according to open records responses and the Pennsylvania Department of State online lobbying database.
Click here for the full, searchable list.
Methodology: Commonwealth Foundation Senior Fellow Jessica Barnett used Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law to request information about taxpayer-funded lobbying from 1,518 local government entities from 2017 to 2020. These requests received an abysmal 40% response rate, which implies that actual lobbying expenditures were much higher. The Pennsylvania Department of State lobbying database provided additional, though limited, records going back to 2007. The reports also highlight errors and misreporting in government responses to Right-to-Know requests which suggest an even greater fiscal impact.
Federal lobbying expenses—incurred when Pennsylvania hires contract lobbyists to lobby the federal government—were not analyzed in these reports but reached $3 million from 2017 to 2020, according to OpenSecrets.
Solutions: Taxpayer-funded lobbying is not unique to Pennsylvania. Thirty-five other states have not restricted the practice either, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but the issue is a growing concern. Recently, the Texas Legislature introduced a comprehensive bill (Senate Bill 10) to ban state government from using public money to pay lobbying expenses or hire lobbyists and prohibits any public funds from going to public associations. The governors of Arizona and Utah have limited taxpayer-funded lobbying via executive order in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
“Now is the perfect time for a comprehensive bill to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying in Pennsylvania,” said Benefield. “Taxpayer-funded lobbying is a clear conflict of interest that flies in the face of transparency and ethics.”
In Pennsylvania, two bills would prohibit taxpayer-funded lobbying contracts:
- HB 1607, sponsored by Rep. Russ Diamond, prohibits any commonwealth entity from hiring an outside lobbyist or consultant to influence the Legislature, executive branch, or judiciary.
- SB 802, sponsored by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, also limits a commonwealth entity—specifically including local governments and state agencies—from hiring a lobbyist or political consultant to influence the decision-making process of another commonwealth entity or agency.
To see the full list of state and local government spending on taxpayer-funded lobbying, visit: https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/taxpayer-funded-lobbying
Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact John Bouder at 570-490-1042 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.
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