A Davis County Tea Party-related interest group, Citizens for Tax Fairness, is pushing the Legislature to change its rules so taxpayers do not fund lobbyists. It's an argument that needs to be heard more often.
The pace of political reform within Utah's Legislature is glacial. We doubt that organizations and municipalities, such as the Utah League of Cities and Towns and Ogden city, both of which dip into public funds to hire lobbyists, are likely to lose that privilege. However, there's no reason that public lobbying groups should be required to maintain and post to the public strict accounts of how much their lobbyists are being paid and details as to how the money "benefits" the entity behind it.
We share the sentiments of Utah state Rep. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, who wonders why a city, such as Ogden, hires a professional lobbyist to see him. Jenkins very sensibly notes that a local city representative would be a more effective advocate. Also, state Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, agrees that he is more receptive to requests from a local representative than a hired lobbyist.
Nevertheless, Ogden, for example, spent $30,000 on lobbying in 2010 and 2011 and the mayor's office managed to find $40,000 for a city lobbyist this year. Mark Johnson, Ogden's chief administrative officer, is a fan of the city having a lobbyist. He compares lobbying to insurance and says it protects Ogden's residents.
The act of lobbying is not always bad. The ethics associated with lobbying are a concern. It's a valid point to wonder if it's ethical to have taxpayer-funded lobbyists. The best solution to ending unethical lobbying practices is for the public, the voters, to step in and demand change. In the past several years, despite loud opposition from some pols, there have been minor restrictions placed on how much money lobbyists can throw to pols.
It will probably be the result of a concerted effort by the public if limits are to place on lobbying funded by public funds.