Lobbyists a necessary factor in today’s politics

Kansas legislators are considering a bill that forbids the use of public funds for lobbying efforts. With the ideological disconnect between many lawmakers and their constituents, the role of the lobbyist is more important than ever for Kansas cities and counties



February 15, 2024 - 4:27 PM

Senate Bill 373, which forbids the use of public funds for lobbying efforts, would be especially damaging to publicly funded entities such as our public schools, police forces and city and county governments. Photo by Tim Carpenter / Kansas Reflector

Kansas lobbyists get a bad rap.

After all, they’re paid to push special interests in the esteemed halls of governments.

Lobbyists grease the wheels of those with deep pockets, such as energy giants, pharmaceuticals,  and weapons manufacturers, goes the group-think.

But lobbyists also represent the interests of publicly funded entities such as city and county governments, watershed districts, National Guard units, police departments, school districts, etc. 

In those cases, it’s sometimes one government entity lobbying another, which today is coming under attack by state legislators who maintain the use of public tax dollars for such purposes should be outlawed.

For the most part, these legislators are doing the bidding of Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of energy giant Koch Industries. 

Before the Kansas Committee on Federal and State Affairs is Senate Bill 373, AFP-sponsored legislation that forbids the use of public funds for lobbying efforts.

Considering how far the tentacles of Koch Industries reach into Kansas politics, the irony is rich. And dangerous.

Familiar targets of AFP lobbyists are public education, public healthcare, equitable taxation, renewable energy and public assistance such as food stamps.

The premise that public entities need lobbyists is increasingly based on the ideological divide between elected officials and those they represent. 

If a legislator’s allegiances differ from the majority of his or her constituents, then a logical go-between is a lobbyist who has the background and expertise to help bridge the mismatch so that publicly funded municipalities, school districts, health clinics, etc., see that they are not entirely left out in the cold.

Increasingly, it’s the job of lobbyists to keep the channels of communication open so that potholes are repaired, arms are injected with life-saving vaccines and all children are properly educated.

It’s also about efficiencies of scale.

Lobbyists with the Kansas League of Municipalities, for instance, are hired to represent the interests of the state’s 625 cities and 105 counties.

Rather than each city and county having to send their administrators and commissioners to represent their interests at the statehouse, the League’s lobbyists are their stand-ins.

Not all legislators appreciate the paid representation and complain it’s a waste of public funds.

Allen County Commissioner Bruce Symes begs to differ and uses the current debate over the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, Senate Bill 196, as an example.

The LAVTR fund was created in 1937 as a way to reduce the burden of property taxes on homeowners.