Senate Study Bill 1229 drew the ire of some Democrats on the Senate State Government committee, but it was embraced by the Republicans, who passed the measure through committee on Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Jake Chapman said the bill would prohibit any government entity from using public funds for lobbying activities whether as an employee or under contract. Those entities can still employ liaisons to provide information to the legislature, but a lobbyist strictly advocates for or against bills.
Democrat Sen. Pam Jochum went back and forth with Chapman on a few details of the bill.
Ultimately, Chapman said, the bill is quite simple.
“The point is we have cities, we have counties, we have taxpayer money being spent to lobby and advocate for or against bills that quite frankly may not be in the best interest of the taxpayer,” Chapman said. “Might be in the best interest of the city collecting the revenue, but it’s not in the best interest of taxpayers.”
Most cities with lobbyists are hiring contract lobbyists. So, for example, they may spend $53,000 to hire a contract lobbyist. That situation will be addressed by this bill.
Members of those entities can still register and declare a position on a bill, Chapman said.
“Nothing in this would preclude a mayor, a school board member to call, to email, to advocate for or against a position,” Chapman said. “Even the ability to register, they could certainly do that by having someone who is not doing it on a contract basis or as a primary function.”
Jochum noted concern with bills being dropped “at the last minute” and wondered how these entities could monitor such activities without anyone at the Capitol full-time.
“We don’t have to agree with what they have to tell us,” she said. “But at least they’ve had the opportunity to let us know what they think and what’s going to work and what’s not.”
Chapman had a simple response.
“It’s the same thing any ordinary Iowan would do,” he said. “I don’t agree with the notion that you have to have a lobbyist to know what’s going on in the legislative body.
“Look, at the end of the day the question is do you support taxpayer money going to fund lobbyists. That’s what we’re debating. If you support that, then vote against the bill.”
Democrat Sen. Tony Bisignano expressed a lot of frustration with the bill.
“It’s not my job to contact the county or the city on every bill that you’ve all filed,” he said. “I can’t keep up with you. But that’s what these lobbyists are for. Some how local government up here doesn’t do anything right. I don’t know anything that you’ve done in the last couple years that has paid any kind of compliment to either the school boards, your councils or your supervisors. Everything has been a negative.”
Bisignano stressed the reasons he thinks public sector lobbyists are necessary.
“I look at all these private lobbyists sitting out there,” he said. “A lot of the people that are sitting out there who resent public government lobbyists, the reason we have them is to protect them from you. You’re the ones coming in wanting to take and take out of state government and its revenues through tax credits and benefits and restrictions. Who is to watch for the taxpayer? Well, lo and behold, we don’t want to pay somebody with taxpayer dollars to prevent a mugging of the taxpayer.”
He continued ranting against the bill.
“For anybody to resent somebody else, you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” he said. “This is government. We deal with the public sector. The private sector is well taken care of. (The public sector) is watching out for the little guy who goes to work, works hard and doesn’t have time to read the paper and follow the news on Sen. Chapman’s bills to put a check on him. That’s the public sector lobby looking out for you guys.”
The criticism took off from that point.
“This is the dumbest public policy bill that you could even take up — to say the taxpayer shouldn’t be represented with taxpayer money,” Bisignano said. “That’s so contradictory it doesn’t make any sense. You’re going to pass this bill obviously, you pass all this garbage. I try to work as closely as I can and as fairly as I can with every one of you who sits out there when you come to me, but when you start becoming offended by people who protect my tax dollar, I’m offended by you.”
Chapman countered Bisignano’s claim that public lobbyists look out for the taxpayer.
“When a lobbyist sends out an email encouraging taxing entities to raise their tax levy because the House puts out a bill that makes this year’s budget for property tax the baseline for future years, how is that looking out for the best interest of the taxpayer,” Chapman asked. “Encouraging county governments to increase their tax levy rate or make sure they keep them maxed out, that’s not looking out for the best interest of the taxpayer. And it’s the taxpayer’s money going to these people lobbying against them. That’s the problem we’re trying to address.”
Democrat Senators Claire Celsi, Jim Lykam, Todd Taylor, Jochum and Bisignano all voted against the bill.