When I set out to describe the contours of the Lobby World under the Golden Dome, I knew I’d forget some pieces. Well, here are a couple of biggies — underwritten by you and me, the taxpayers of Vermont: State officials, and agencies that receive state funding, are frequently in the Statehouse lobbying on behalf of their entity.
First and foremost, officials of the Executive Branch. Cabinet secretaries and departmental commissioners spend a lot of time in the Statehouse when the Legislature is in session. This is legitimate when they’re testifying before a committee, but most of their Statehouse activity consists of roaming the halls and the cafeteria, shaking hands and maybe twisting the odd arm. When hospitality professional Al Gobeille was Human Services Secretary, he seemed to be in the Statehouse every day.
And that’s nothing more than taxpayer-subsidized lobbying.
Administration lobbying is, in fact, the most pernicious and effective lobbying of all. Because the Legislature has few resources — if any — for independent information, they are largely dependent on the Executive Branch (and lobbyists) for input. Administration officials cultivate good relationships with lawmakers because it’s beneficial for them and their governor.
This is all a big feedback loop with the infamous “revolving door” between* elective office, officialdom and lobbying proper. Many of the key players have been on one side or the other, sometimes all three, and the relationships carry forward. (And, of course, they habituate the same watering holes and eateries in the evenings.) A long friendship won’t win you the day, but you’re assured of getting a friendly ear if nothing else.
*I know, I know, you can’t say “between” three things. But “among” doesn’t sound right either. What this is is a three-way revolving door, which would best be illustrated by M.C. Escher.
It’d be interesting but impossible — but interesting — to tally up all the hours that top administration officials spend in the Statehouse, assign a very generous executive-level hourly rate to the activity, and find out exactly how much lobbying we are directly paying for.
After the jump… lobbying by agencies that receive state funds… and a Senate study of the issue that maybe possibly never happened.
The state funds a variety of outside entities to provide services. A couple of examples: the regional development corporations (through the Commerce Agency), and the Designated Agencies — nonprofit entities that ensure delivery of human services in their spheres of operation. The RDCs and the DAs all lobby the Legislature — and likely the administration during budget-writing season — over their places in the budget and their rules of operation. They kinda have to to keep up with the Joneses, but still, they’re using taxpayer funds in an effort to, um, get more taxpayer funds.
And it’s another part of Lobby World that can’t be directly measured. Or indirectly, for that matter.
Here’s where the story takes a curious turn.
Back in 2013, some senators were leery about lobbying activity by outside entities receiving state funds. In fact, the Senate adopted a resolution, S.R. 7, creating a study committee on the issue. At the time, Sen. Dick Sears said, “Taxpayers are not represented in these groups, and yet it is state tax dollars that are being spent.”
I’m trying to find out when, or if, this committee issued a report. According to the Legislature’s website, the committee held no meetings or hearings, collected any documents or took any testimony in the 2013-14 and 2015-16 sessions.
Awaiting final word, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if the committee quietly ditched its assignment. It would, after all, have ruffled quite a few feathers and threatened many an entrenched interest.
Whether the committee ever studied anything or not, the practice has remained unchanged. Outside entities receiving state funds are still in there, lobbying away. The question of propriety has been asked and, as far as I can tell, gone unanswered.
So there you have it. An amendment to my knowingly incomplete map of Lobby World. Really, the part you can read about in lobbyist financial filings is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more going on every day.