I might be more upset with this development if it weren’t for the fact that taxpayer dollars are already being used for lobbying. The government using taxpayer dollars to lobby other levels of government for more taxpayer dollars is exactly what we don’t want, but let’s not kid ourselves. This is already happening, despite the state’s existing prohibition on the use of taxpayer dollars for lobbying.
Local governments like cities and counties already hire lawyers to do lobbying (they’re called “special council” or something like that), and they already belong to associations such as the League of Cities and the Association of Counties. What do these groups do? Among other things, they lobby the state legislature.
The state also has a prohibition on using taxpayer dollars for “political purposes,” which is defined in the law as supporting or opposing candidates, political parties or ballot measures. And yet, groups like the League of Cities and Association of Counties, who are funded by membership dues paid by our various political subdivisions, use their funds for political purposes all the time.
Heck, even an overtly political group like the Chamber of Commerce gets heaping helpings of taxpayer dollars. A quick search for “chamber commerce” on the Office of Management and Budget’s spending database shows hundreds of thousands of dollars for grants and, I kid you not, membership dues going into various chapters of the Chamber of Commerce.
Here’s a screen shot of the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce’s take from various branches of government:
Keep in mind that the Chamber of Commerce takes positions on political issues. They support and oppose ballot measures. They endorse candidates and make political contributions. You can’t get much more political than the Chamber of Commerce, and yet the group gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions every biennium.
I think we’re all fine with whatever political activities a private group like the Chamber of Commerce may want to get up to, but are they really a private group when they get so much money from the taxpayers? Which isn’t an argument for the Chamber halting their political activities so much as it’s an argument for cutting off their flow of tax dollars.
Anyway, back to the legislation allowing local governments to lobby, we may as well pass it. Because it’s happening already. This law would just let local governments be honest about it for a change.