- Under current Pennsylvania law, local governments and government agencies use tax dollars to support associations that, among other activities, engage in lobbying, often for policies that grow the size and cost of state and federal governments. This is a clear conflict of interest.
- Right-to-Know (RTK) requests show local governments paid at least $24.1 million in tax dollars to membership associations that actively engaged in lobbying from 2017 to 2020.
- These findings are a mere glimpse of total taxpayer-funded lobbying, due to incomplete lobbying records and incomplete responses records requests. Just 40% of local governments responded to RTK requests.
- Prohibiting local governments and government agencies from diverting public funds to these associations would increase transparency and prevent taxpayers’ dollars from funding lobbying harmful to taxpayers.
To understand the scope of taxpayer-funded lobbying, the Commonwealth Foundation submitted a series of RTK requests, according to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, to local governments and government agencies across the commonwealth1
The Commonwealth Foundation reviewed local governments, including boroughs, cities, counties, and school districts, along with state and regional agencies. The agencies examined include the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC), the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), The Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA), the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County (RAAC), the Public Parking Authority of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Airport Authority, and the Schuylkill County Municipal Authority. The requests asked for records “showing the hiring of lobbying organization[s] since 2017…[and] the amount of money the agency transmits to the organization[s].”2
Roughly 40% of local government and government agencies responded to email requests.3 The Commonwealth Foundation combined records received via RTK requests with the Pennsylvania Department of State (DOS) online lobbying database that contains records going back to 2007.
EXAMPLES OF PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNMENTS USING TAX DOLLARS TO PAY ASSOCIATIONS TO LOBBY
Records obtained from 619 local governments (about 25% of all local governments) uncovered $24.1 million in association dues to membership organizations from 2017 to 2020 that lobby state government. These groups use their public funding to advocate for additional state funding and to influence public policy. In essence, taxpayer money is being used to lobby for higher taxes.
While records do not separate lobbying and other activities, lobbying is a major role of these associations, as revealed by their lobbying reports and employment of lobbyists. The following section shows how tax dollars fund associations that lobby state government.
- Thirty five of sixty-seven counties responded to records requests. They reported paying $11.8 million to membership organizations. The largest county contributors to associations that lobby include Berks ($4 million), Bucks ($2.8 million), and Allegheny ($1.5 million).4
- The largest organization representing counties is the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP). CCAP is an affiliate of the National Association of Counties, a $45.7 million organization with 41 employees. CCAP and its affiliates received $11.5 million from Pennsylvania counties, according to RTK records.5
- CCAP has lobbied for many state tax and spending increases, including the creation of a local earned income tax and sales tax, and imposing a county realty and sales tax.6 In addition, CCAP opposes the Taxpayer Protection Act (TPA), which limits the growth of state spending.7
- Of Pennsylvania’s 56 cities, nine reported paying more than $142,000 in total to membership associations.8
- According to available records, approximately half of Pennsylvania’s 956 boroughs paid a total of $2.1 million to associations.
- The two largest associations lobbying on behalf of municipalities are the Pennsylvania Municipal League (PML) and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs (PSAB).
- PML reports $4.8 million in revenue with a staff of 28 employees, including four registered lobbyists. PML received $138,505 in membership dues from cities and more than $250,000 from boroughs.
- PML represents municipal government interests with state and federal government officials and regulatory agencies, analyzing legislation and promoting legislative action, for instance, lobbying to change municipal law and to access federal funds for municipalities.9
- The Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs (PSAB) maintains a full-time staff of 19 employees, including four registered lobbyists.10 The association and affiliates received $1.5 million from boroughs, according to RTK records.
- PSAB engages in advocacy for the express purpose to gain access to programs, funding, and educational resources.11
- The 105 of 500 school districts that responded reported $10.1 million paid to membership associations.
- The largest association representing school officials is the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). PSBA is a $9 million organization with nine registered lobbyists, funded by $7.2 million in taxpayer-funded dues.12 RTK requests identified about $4.3 million in payments from individual school districts to PSBA, nearly half of all reported payments from school districts to associations.
- PSBA’s lobbying priorities include slashing charter school funding, limiting educational choice, stricter charter school and school choice regulations, increasing funding for public schools, and a statewide teachers’ contract.13
- Additional educational associations receiving tax dollars include: the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials ($735,000), the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators ($490,000), the Pennsylvania Principals’ Association ($150,000), and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools ($94,000).
SOLUTION: PROHIBIT GOVERNMENTS AND AGENCIES FROM USING TAXPAYER DOLLARS TO FUND MEMBER ASSOCIATIONS
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Pennsylvania was among 35 states without restrictions on using tax dollars for lobbying.
In Texas, legislators introduced a comprehensive bill to prohibit government-funded lobbying. Senate Bill 10 bans the government from using public money to pay lobbying expenses or hire lobbyists and prohibits any public funds from going to public associations. Instead, cross-agency government interactions would remain in-house.14
This legislation came to the forefront after a report found Texas municipalities spent $41 million on lobbying, or 11% of total lobbying in 2020.15 Polling commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation found that 91% of Texas opposed taxpayer-funded lobbying, including 80% who strongly opposed it.16
In Pennsylvania, there are bills to prohibit taxpayer-funded lobbying via contracts with hired lobbyists.17. However, there is no legislation to limit the ability of local governments to divert tax dollars from services to membership associations that lobby state government.18 Lawmakers should consider legislation to prohibit the practice of using tax dollars to pay associations that turn around and lobby government, or legislation that requires the public disclosure of all tax dollars sent to membership organizations that employ lobbyists. This legislation would limit the ability of governments to divert tax dollars from their intended use and create greater transparency, while still allowing local governments to advocate for their interests in Harrisburg.
LIMITED RECORDS AND LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
The lack of RTK responses and required reporting of lobbying activities prevented the authors from presenting a comprehensive accounting of all taxpayer-funded lobbying contracts despite follow up RTK requests when government records conflicted with records available on the DOS lobbying database.
For example, the PTC denied possessing any records of hired lobbyists. However, the DOS lobbying database shows they retained five contract lobbyists since 2007, with expenditures only reported from 2007–2010.
On the other hand, Schuylkill County Municipal Authority provided records of paying $876,000 to Bob Allen & Associates, yet the DOS lobbying database shows $0 reported.
Other obstacles are the limitations in the law. Specifically, the law exempts reporting for any individual not compensated for lobbying, any lobbyists, firm, or principal who lobby less than 20 hours over 3 months, and any individual receiving less than $2,500 for lobbying services over 3 months.
To see the full list of expenditures where taxpayers’ money was used to pay lobbyists, visit here: https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/taxpayer-resources-spent-on-lobbying.
1There are approximately 2,500 local governments in Pennsylvania excluding townships and fire or police departments. Act of Feb. 14, 2008, P.L. 6, No. 3, https://www.openrecords.pa.gov/Documents/RTKL/PA_Right-To-Know_Law.pdf.
2Pennsylvania Department of State, “Lobbying Services,” (Accessed October 2021), https://www.palobbyingservices.pa.gov/Public/wfSearch.aspx#BOTTOM.
3Contact information were identified via the state Office of Open Records (OOR) online database, however, this list was incomplete and outdated..“Find Agency Open Records Officers,” Office of Open Records (Accessed February 2020), https://www.openrecords.pa.gov/RTKL/AOROSearch.cfm.
4Information obtained via RTK requests filed by the Commonwealth Foundation. The 35 responsive counties were Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Centre, Chester, Clarion, Clearfield, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntington, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Perry, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Wyoming.
5“CCAP affiliates include Pennsylvania Association of County Administrators of Mental Health and Development, Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators, Pennsylvania Association of County Drug and Alcohol Administrators, Pennsylvania Association of County Human Services Administrators, and County Planning Directors' Association of Pennsylvania.
6“CCAP 2020 Priorities Status Report,” County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, (November 2020) https://www.pacounties.org/GR/Documents/CCAPPrioritiesStatusReportNovember2020.pdf. Robert Postal, “Testimony on House Transportation Task Force Bill Package,” County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, (August 2020), https://www.pacounties.org/GR/Documents/20200819HouseTransportationTFHouseTransportationTestimony.pdf.
7Opposition to HB 1316 from October 2019 emails sent to lawmakers.
8According to RTK requests filed by the Commonwealth Foundation, the cities are Allentown, Altoona, Carbondale, Harrisburg, Hazelton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lock Haven, New Castle, and St. Mary’s.
9Advocacy Overview,” Pennsylvania Municipal League, https://www.pml.org/advocacy/advocacy-overview/; “Advocacy Success: American Rescue Plan,” Pennsylvania Municipal League, https://www.pml.org/advocacy-success-american-rescue-plan/.
10PSAB affiliates include Assoc. of Mayors of Boroughs of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Municipal Administrators, Pennsylvania Borough Solicitors Association, Pennsylvania Borough Councils Association, Pennsylvania Association of Council of Governments, and Capital Region Council of Governments.
11“Legislative Priorities & Resolutions Process,” The Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, https://boroughs.org/subpage.php?link=Resolutions%20Process.
12PSBA Form 990,Guidestar, https://pdf.guidestar.org/PDF_Images/2019/236/003/2019-236003238-17179096-9O.pdf?_gl=1*zoeg4b*_ga*MzU3ODk4OTguMTYxNDE4NjY5MQ..*_ga_0H865XH5JK*MTYxNTgzMTE1Ni4xMi4xLjE2MTU4MzEyMDQuMA..*_ga_5W8PXYYGBX*MTYxNTgzMTE1Ni4xMi4xLjE2MTU4MzEyMDQuMA..&_ga=2.12243508.1895164656.1615831156-35789898.1614186691. RTK requests revealed far less in membership dues than the $7.2 million reported in their 990 due to differing definitions of membership dues and a lack of responses from school districts.
13“Positions & Testimony,” Pennsylvania School Boards Association, https://www.psba.org/advocacy-and-news/issues/positions-testimony/.
14This legislation would further allow for injunctive relief and legal fees recovery in the event a political subdivision persists in funding prohibited lobbying activity with taxpayer funds and allows.
16Patrick Gleason, “Texas Lawmakers Are Poised To End Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying In 2021 And Other States Are Likely To Follow Suit,” Forbes (December 7, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickgleason/2020/12/07/texas-is-poised-to-end-taxpayer-funded-lobbying-in-2021-and-other-states-are-likely-to-follow-suit/?sh=6a9188a95e3a.
18“House Republicans Introduce New Rules for Lobbyists,” Representative Cutler (June 11, 2021), http://www.repcutler.com/News/19919/Latest-News/House-Republicans-Introduce-New-Rules-for-Lobbyists; “Lobbyist Disclosure Reform Package,” Pennsylvania State Senate Co-Sponsor Memorandum, (October 2021), https://www.legis.state.pa.us//cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=S&SPick=20210&cosponId=35655.