Topeka Karl Peterjohn, the head of an anti-tax organization, said when he told people their cities, counties and schools were using their tax dollars to lobby the Kansas Legislature for increased spending, they were sometimes outraged.
"Taxpayers should not be forced to fund lobbyists," said Peterjohn, executive director of the Wichita-based Kansas Taxpayers Network.
Peterjohn has a sympathetic ear in Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 457, which would prohibit use of public money to lobby.
"I have opposed taxpayers funding lobbyists for a long time," O'Connor said.
At a recent hearing on the bill, representatives of governmental entities said such a prohibition would result in bad decisions by state lawmakers because they wouldn't have the benefit of information from the perspective of cities, counties or other governmental levels.
And they said reducing the activities of publicly funded lobbyists would leave the Statehouse overwhelmed by private special interests.
"The ability of cities to have individuals who come before the Legislature to voice thoughts, comments and concerns on pieces of legislation is a very important one, which should not be overlooked," said Don Moler, executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities.
"Without public interest lobbyists who represent local governments and their citizens, the field would be left completely open to monied, private interests who employ numerous lobbyists to advance their private agendas," Moler said.
O'Connor and Peterjohn, however, said the desires of individual citizens often got drowned out by the lobbyists representing governmental entities whose agendas may differ from those of average taxpayers.
For instance, O'Connor said citizens, by large majorities, wanted restrictions on governmental entities using the power of eminent domain to condemn property for economic development reasons, while cities and counties were wanting a less restrictive approach.
But Sen. Donald Betts, D-Wichita, said representing constituents was precisely the duty of elected officials.
"There is talk about citizens who can't afford lobbyists. We are their lobbyists," he said.
There are approximately 500 lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State's office, and they represent more than 1,000 interests before the Legislature.
For the most part, public education, municipal and county governments are represented by a handful of lobbyists each who work full-time.
The remaining lobbyists mostly represent private interests, such as telephone companies, insurance companies, energy companies, utilities, doctors, lawyers and farmers. SBC telephone alone has 17 registered lobbyists.
In 2005, lobbyists reported spending a total of $560,394 trying to influence the Kansas Legislature, with much of that expense in food and drinks.
Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the proposed legislation didn't make sense.
"County government is set up to serve the residents of Douglas County," he said. "Part of my job is to look after the county's interest with the Legislature. If that law passed, it would be illegal for me to provide information that the Legislature needs to determine the impact of bills on local governments."
He said often lawmakers asked him for information. For example, he said, he has been asked by Douglas County legislators for information on the effect of a proposed phase-out of the property tax on purchases of business machinery and equipment.
Douglas County commissioners spent $12,760 for membership into the Kansas Association of Counties, which lobbies on behalf of counties in addition to providing a wide range of professional services. Weinaug said it was money well spent to ensure legislators got essential information from lower rungs of government.
Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss said the city of Lawrence spent $27,766 for annual membership dues this year to the League of Kansas Municipalities.
"The city believes that that is a very wise investment of our local tax dollars," Corliss said, adding that the league provides advocacy, training and advice on key issues affecting Lawrence.
The Lawrence school board spent $10,000 for annual membership to the Kansas Association of School Boards, which lobbies for schools in addition to providing professional services.