Statehouse Live: Fight over taxpayer-financed lobbying ensues

? A bill prohibiting the use of public funds to lobby the Legislature was hailed by supporters as a way to protect taxpayers, but opponents said it would stifle crucial, local input on important issues.

A hearing on Senate Bill 109 drew a standing-room-only crowd before the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee.

After the hearing, Chairman Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said he was unsure of what the committee would do with the bill, which has the support of the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Under SB 109, no public funds could be used directly or indirectly for lobbying. In addition, the measure would prohibit public funds from being used to pay for lobbying services or for membership dues to an association that is engaged in lobbying. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor.

The bill would allow government officers or employees to communicate with a member of the Legislature if they were asked.

Don Moler, executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said the bill would effectively outlaw his organization, in addition to a number of other local government associations that regularly have lobbyists testify to the Legislature.

“Stifling discussion is not the democratic way. Passing laws prohibiting some from petitioning the Legislature is not the democratic way. Muzzling the opposition is about as un-democratic as it gets,” Moler said.

Several city, county and school district officials from across the state urged the committee to reject the bill.

They said they don’t have the time to monitor all bills in the Kansas Legislature and depended on city and county associations to keep an eye on legislation that affects their constituents.

Manhattan Mayor Loren Pepperd said lobbyists helped the city develop its airport, win the federal National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and get highway improvements.

Clancy Holeman, an attorney for Riley County, said the ability for local officials to lobby the Legislature was crucial several years ago when lawmakers approved a bill that dealt with buffer requirements between Fort Riley and residential development. “We had a much better bill that passed” because of those discussions, he said.

Questions also arose if local chambers of commerce and businesses that receive some public funding would be prevented from conferring with legislators.

But Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said when he was the head of the Kansas Taxpayers Network and testified in the Legislature against spending or taxes, he was often opposed by taxpayer-paid lobbyists representing cities or school districts.

“We need an equal and level playing field and that does not exist when tax dollars are used,” Peterjohn said.

Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, said she resented taxapyer-paid lobbyists for cities testifying against gun rights.

And Earl McIntosh of Topeka said he believed that only private organizations should have the right to lobby.

Chairman Pyle said he believed associations representing cities and counties could be formed without the use of tax dollars, similar to how he pays dues to the Kansas Farm Bureau to represent his interests. Asked if his state legislative salary is used to pay those dues, he said that wouldn’t matter.

“You pay a teacher that is paid with public funds, but when the teacher receives that money that then is private funds and that teacher can do what they want with their money. It’s their paycheck,” he said.