Pioneer Editorial: We're paying to lobby reps that we elect
State lawmakers often complain that the halls of the State Capitol are filled with lobbyists. While it's understandable that those with special interests in the outcome of legislation -- such as utilities, pharmaceutical companies or sports teams seeking stadiums -- would hire lobbyists to work legislators, it just seems wrong that the taxpayers have to do the same to be represented in St. Paul.
That's the case, however, as Minnesota local governments spent $7.8 million in 2005 to lobby the 201 legislators on their positions -- of course, using taxpayer dollars to do so. What's even more disturbing is that the amount is nearly 25 percent more than local governments spent in 2004 -- $6.3 million -- which hadn't risen much from 2003's $6.1 million.
The figures are part of a report issued Tuesday by State Auditor Patricia Anderson, who notes that the dramatic rise is cause for concern for local taxpayers footing the bill. While one of the reason for the higher bill may simply be because lawmakers were in session longer last year -- with a special session running into July -- it's also because local governments are depending more and more on hired guns to represent them in St. Paul.
The report shows a marked increase in the number of local governments which directly employed or hired contract lobbyists in 2005, amounting to $3.7 million. Local governments do belong to various associations, and such networks are good for information sharing and collaboration. But of the $9.5 million paid in dues, $4.12 million of it went to lobbyists and lobbying in 2005, a 24.2 percent increase over the prior year.
Bemidji-area units of government do belong to various associations, but much of their dues are spent on lobbying. For instance, the city of Bemidji in 2005 paid dues of $30,323 to two associations, with $20,585 used for lobbying. The bulk went to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, with at least one local lawmaker refusing to even let lobbyists from that group in the door. And that's in addition to Bemidji City Council members making regular trips themselves to St. Paul to directly lobby.
Larger units, with more at stake, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists. The city of Minneapolis in 2005 spent $424,689 of taxpayer dollars on directly employing lobbying staff or hiring contract lobbyists. Hennepin County followed with $306,369.
There just seems to be something fundamentally wrong that we, as taxpayers, must spend money to talk to our state representatives and senators, whom we elect to represent us. And, if we don't, we'll be left without as those local governments that do lobby get the attention that all of us -- the public, no matter where we live -- equally deserve.