Here in Wisconsin, we have dozens of laws regulating lobbyists. If you regularly lobby legislators, you have to register with the state as a lobbyist, report the bills and issues on which you lobby, how much time you spend on each, and how much money you spend lobbying legislators on individual issues. This all makes sense, as it helps the public’s right to know how much influence certain groups have on specific legislation that makes it through the process.
(All the lobbying data can be found here.)
Of course, if you’re a regular citizen, you have a constitutional right to petition your government for the redress of grievances. Any individual constituent can call their legislator at any time and tell them what they think about certain topics, without having to register with the state or jump through bureaucratic hoops.
It appears, however, that one municipality has just figured out a way to circumvent the state lobbying law by signing up their entire city workforce as their team of lobbyists – none of which will be subject to the reporting requirements.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the tension between the state and local governments when it comes to funding. My solution was to give locals more power to raise revenue and set their own budgets, while reducing the state program that sends nearly $1 billion back to local governments per year (called “shared revenue.”) The shared revenue program has been a constant fight between the state and locals, especially as the level of aid has essentially been frozen for 12 years.
Rather than do what some municipalities do, which is to hire a lobbyist to plead for more money from Madison (you get the irony here – local governments spend taxpayer money on a lobbyist to go to the State Legislature to beg for more taxpayer money), the City of West Allis has gone one step further – they are proposing hiring their entire city workforce to serve as lobbyists.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, West Allis is proposing tying employee raises to, in part, increases in shared revenue from the state. This oddball arrangement immediately makes every state employee an instant lobbyist for their cause to pull down more money from Madison. One can imagine the phone lines between West Allis city employees and legislative offices in the Capitol are going to be burning up, demanding more money for raises. And it won’t cost city taxpayers a dime – it merely shifts city workers’ incentives.
Imagine if a private company offered its workers a contract that stipulated raises were based on how much aid that company could get from the state. Would anyone see this as a legitimate strategy? Having all their employees on their knees, begging for taxpayer money to get raises? Yet this is exactly what West Allis is proposing – having their employees becoming their lobbyists, as they haven’t been able to make their case for increased funding on their own.
In the Journal Sentinel article, a clueless political science professor at UW-Madison is quoted:
Donald Moynihan, associate professor of public affairs at the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW-Madison, said employees might not like the proposal because their pay would be tied to factors they cannot control.
That’s the whole idea of the proposal. To get the employees to try to control the factors which will lead to increased wages. They are a built in lobbying corps – might as well use them.