The Riley County Commission had good reason Thursday to balk at a legislative proposal that would prohibit commissioners from paying a lobbyist to try to sway state lawmakers on issues of importance to Riley County.
And Manhattan Mayor Loren Pepperd, who testified against the proposal in Topeka, was dead on when he told a state Senate committee that paid lobbyists have helped Manhattan develop Manhattan Regional Airport and attract the National Bio- and Agro- Defense Facility.
The proposal, Senate Bill 109, would prohibit the use of any public funds for either direct or indirect lobbying activities as well as membership dues in organizations such as the League of Kansas Municipalities and the Kansas Association of Counties that participate in lobbying the Kansas Legislature. Also illegal would be unauthorized lobbying by public officials or public bodies. Violations would be Class C misdemeanors, punishable by a $500 fine or up to 30 days in jail. Elected and appointed officials would still be permitted to testify or otherwise comment on state legislation, but only if they were asked by a legislator to do so.
The result, intended or otherwise, would be to make it more difficult for local governments to influence legislation that affects not just individual citizens but the local governments of the communities those citizens call home.
This proposal makes one wonder whether members of the Legislature, who ought to welcome the involvement of local governments, are instead trying to erect obstacles for their participation.
The bill’s advocates contend that it protects taxpayers, and perhaps it does. When local governments hire lobbyists, after all, it is local taxpayers who foot the bill. But whether that’s wise shouldn’t be up to the Legislature. It ought to be up to local taxpayers, who at least in this part of the state have never been shy about making their views known to their local governments.
Before this proposal advances any further, legislators ought to determine whether they’re also willing to prohibit the use of state money to keep tabs on federal legislation or to lobby federal lawmakers on matters that might affect Kansas, such as the defense budget, agriculture and NBAF. Legislators won’t do that, of course; nor should they.
But they also ought to ask themselves how they would respond if Congress were to prohibit states from hiring lobbyists to act on their behalf in the U.S. House or Senate.
Their response would be dismay and outrage, which would approximate the reaction to this preposterous measure in Manhattan and other Kansas communities.