Despite reform promises during electoral campaign, Lone Star GCD Board contemplating taxpayer-funded lobbyist in defiance of conservative pro-citizen principles; Bouche comes out against

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Board President Webb Melder.

Updated at 9:29 a.m., Tuesday, January 15, 2019.

Conroe, January 15 – Despite numerous campaign promises by the members of the newly-elected Board of Directors of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) that they would avoid high-priced professionals as their appointed predecessors had squandered the taxpayers’ funds, the Board has included on its agenda the following for its Tuesday, January 15, 2019, 1 p.m. workshop and 4 p.m. Board meeting:

“Discussion regarding House Committee on Natural Resources’ ‘Interim Report to the 86th Legislature’ dated December 2018, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs’ ‘Interim Report to the 86th Legislature’ dated December 2018, groundwater bills, and District’s RFQ for a lobbyist.”

During the campaign, Board President Webb Melder, Vice President Harry Hardman, Treasurer Jim Spigener, and other elected Board members Jon Bouche, Larry Rogers, and Jonathan Prykryl had complained about the millions of dollars LSGCD spent on legal and professional fees. Therefore, it’s very surprising that the LSGCD Board would choose to spend funds on a paid lobbyist when the citizens clearly are quite capable of lobbying and tracking legislation on water issues.

If the LSGCD Board were to take action in favor of spending public dollars to lobby the Texas Legislature, it would be a very disappointing rejection of the conservative principles upon which the citizens elected these Board members.

Conservative Republican activist Kelli Cook told this newspaper, “I’ll be very disappointed if the new Board we all worked so hard to elect would take this action to hire a taxpayer funded lobbyist. The problem with tax payer funded lobbying is that it always seems to be used against the tax payers interests.”

In response to Cook’s comment, however, this newspaper challenged the grassroots leader and asked her whether she opposed taxpayer-funded lobbying even if the Board is solidly pro-citizen. Cook explained, “Yes. It tends toward higher taxes, more regulations and less freedom. Even if this Board thinks they’re working in the citizens’ best interests, what they’re really doing is rationalizing the terrible behavior of the previous Board and of other government boards to spend our money using lobbyists against us. We elected the seven of them to represent us on issues involving water, not some nameless $300 per hour lobbyist who may have all sorts of other political purposes besides what is best for the citizens. The seven board members, along with citizens, should be our ‘lobbyists’ on these issues, because that is the group that is most effective.”

“We elected the seven of them to represent us on issues involving water, not some nameless $300 per hour lobbyist who may have all sorts of other political purposes besides what is best for the citizens. The seven board members, along with citizens, should be our ‘lobbyists’ on these issues, because that is the group that is most effective.” – Kelli Cook, policy wonk (who brought Montgomery County taxpayers the 20% homestead exemption) and conservative Republican leader.

Citizen-lobbyists successfully convinced the 85th Texas Legislature to change the LSGCD enabling statute so the Board of Directors became elected rather than appointed. There are many active citizens in Montgomery County with substantial legislative lobbying experience, including conservative Republican activist Kelli Cook who has focused on elimination of red light cameras and tollroads and Ginger Russell who has focused on state education issues.

Several legislative Chiefs of Staff and Policy Directors told The Golden Hammer last week in Austin during the festivities related to the commencement of the 86th Texas Legislature that, by far, the most effective lobbyists are citizens who track legislation and who appear in legislative offices and hearings well prepared to discuss the issues.

With respect to statutory issues related to water, Montgomery County enjoys numerous genuine experts on those issues, including, without limitation, Cook, Melder, businessman Michael Stoecker, businessman Simon Sequeira, businessman Randy Council, and others. Furthermore, the elected Board members of LSGCD would be far more persuasive with legislators than paid lobbyists.

Update: Board member Jon Bouche, who also is a Republican Precinct Chairman for Oak Ridge North and a member of the Montgomery County Republican Party Steering Committee, as well as Chairman of the Freedom and Liberty Conservatives PAC, issued a statement at 9:27 a.m. this morning that he opposes the taxpayer-funded lobbying proposal:

“I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me about the LSGCD considering hiring a lobbyist.  

“This county is blessed to have so many good people who are fully engaged in what is going on. I really appreciate that. 

“This LSGCD situation is no simple matter but we are making great progress. Right now, I plan to work with our Representatives in the State House and Senate to fix the flawed legislation that is the cause of this mess. That is the the next step and we don’t need a lobbyist for that. Just to be clear, I will vote “no” to hiring a lobbyist to do any job that we could do ourselves. If our reps are not able to get this fixed, we will  consider other options and the process will always be transparent and I will be seeking your perspective prior to making any final decisions. 

“Please feel free to call me any time you have a question or concern. 

“Sincerely,

“Jon P. Bouche”

The Republican Party Platform calls for an end to taxpayer-funded lobbying. The Republican Party of Texas named ending taxpayer-funded lobbying as one of its top five priorities for the 86th Texas Legislature with the following explanation:

Understand the Issue

Pass legislation to abolish all forms of taxpayer-funded lobbying and end the automatic payroll deduction of union dues by the government.”

— Republican Party of Texas legislative priority

The Problem

  • Under current state law, political subdivisions may spend public funds to hire lobbyists for the purpose of supporting or opposing measures under consideration by the state legislature. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, political subdivisions spent an estimated $16 million on lobbyist compensation in 2015.
  • Also under current state law, governments can automatically deduct union dues from their employees’ paychecks, and these dues can then be used to fund political activity.  These political activities may be contrary to the preferences of the taxpayers, who are, in essence, funding the dues collection and distribution.
  • Taxpayers and ratepayers of political subdivisions and special districts that hire lobbyists are forced to pay for lobby efforts of their jurisdiction, even if these efforts take positions contrary to their policy preferences. As an example, homeowners may prefer lower property taxes or even the complete replacement of property taxes, while a taxing jurisdiction may be employing lobbyists to protect or even raise property taxes.
  • Given that the interests of citizens may differ from those of their local governments, citizens’ legislative lobby efforts toward state elected officials might be adversely affected by the distinct disadvantage they face when contending with the agenda of taxpayer-funded lobbyists hired by political subdivisions.
  • Many lobbyists participate in the political process through campaign contributions, fundraising, electioneering, and other political activities. The receipt of public dollars by these individuals presents the possibility that public funds could be used to directly or indirectly fund political activity.

The Solution

  • Ban political subdivisions with taxing authority from hiring lobbyists, from paying dues to an association of similarly-situated entities which lobbies, and from automatically deducting union dues.

What People Are Saying

“I believe the public has a right to know that their locally elected officials and associations could be using their taxpayer dollars to directly or indirectly influence the legislative process against the best interest of the Texans they represent. We should do everything we can to ensure that the public trust is never broken and do away with taxpayer-funded lobbying.“

–Konni Burton, Texas State Senator

“In 2017, lobbying disclosure forms also reveal an interesting data point: 11 percent of lobbying dollars spent that year—as much as $41 million—was spent by government to hire outside lobbyists to lobby government. This figure excludes government employees who may spend some of their time lobbying other parts of government or their agency. This taxpayer funded lobbying is problematic. How can one part of a representative government petition itself or a “redress of grievances” to another part of government?”

-Chuck DeVore, Vice President of National Initiatives

Talk to Your Community

Are you all in? Share these sample social media posts to start the conversation with your friends. Use the talking points to drive your message home when talking with friends or reporters. Send the sample Letter to the Editor to your local newspaper to spread the word.

Sample Tweets:

  • Taxpayers should not be paying for government to lobby against them. #EndTaxFundedLobbying
  • Government should not be collecting and distributing union dues for the unions. #StopGovernmentCollectionOfUnionDues
  • Using tax dollars to advocate policies that are not in the taxpayers best interest should be made illegal #EndTaxFundedLobbying
  • I don’t want my tax dollars being used to lobby against my best interests! #EndTaxFundedLobbying
  • Tax dollars should be used to help the people, not lobby against their best interests! #EndTaxFundedLobbying

Messaging:

  • State agencies are banned from using taxpayer money for lobbying. Local taxing authorities should be as well.
  • Taxpayer money should not be diverted for helping government grow.
  • Taxpayer money should never be permitted to be used directly or indirectly for campaign contributions.
  • Many states ALREADY ban taxpayer funded lobbying. Texas is long overdue to do so.

Letter to the Editor:

Please submit a letter to the editor of your local paper(s) and become active on social media on this issue. Below is a sample letter to the editor that you can customize, personalize, and submit to your local newspaper. Be sure to check and follow your paper’s guidelines for length and submission.

Paying Austin Lobbyists should NOT be a part of the local taxpayers burden

Did you know that a portion of your property taxes are funding Austin-based big government lobbying firms?  As tragic as it sounds, many counties, cities, school districts and other taxing jurisdictions employ high-priced consultant lobbyists.  This not only drives up the cost of government, but more egregiously, the lobbyists may be tasked with working AGAINST the very taxpayers that are paying for them!  Additionally, they may well be working against those very taxpayers for other clients. Last, in Texas, unlike many other states who ban or restrict outside lobbyists being paid by government, there is nothing to prevent those lobbyists from donating a portion of their taxpayer “pay” back to elected officials!

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