Do you know how much your city or school district spends on lobbying to affect the laws you live under? Under a new law approved by the Texas legislature, you have the right to—in most cases.
District 23 State Representative Mayes Middleton, who supported the disclosure rule, decided to test how well public entities are complying with it and sent out about 3,000 letters at the beginning of the month, addressed, he said, to “every city, county and school district in the state of Texas,” asking them to produce the information required about taxpayer-funded lobbying.
“It’s just basic common sense,” Middleton said. “If you go into contract with taxpayer-funded lobbyists, you’ve just got to disclose it.”
Middleton authored a bill that would have prohibited using tax money for lobbying efforts, but it did not pass.
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake then presented an amendment to another bill that requires disclosure of that
spending from any governmental unit that has ever contracted with a state agency for consulting services—an umbrella that Middleton said covers virtually every governmental unit in the state.
For covered cities, counties and school districts, the bill requires them to disclose details about any contracts they have had with lobbyists, the costs of those contracts, and a list of all legislation that was advocated for or against by those lobbyists.
While the disclosure went into effect Sept. 1—when most new laws went into effect—it applies retroactively. Middleton’s letter requested information dating back to 2010.
The law also requires cities, counties and school districts to “prominently display on the political subdivision’s Internet website” the listed information.
Middleton said he is not aware of any local governments that have yet complied with the website posting requirement.
The Texas Municipal League, an association that provides consulting and other services to cities, publishes a regular Legislative Update that it sends to member cities.
In the updated dated today, the first article has the heading “Did Your City Receive a Letter from Mayes Middleton?” It recommends that cities send copies of any lobby contracts entered into since 2010 to Middleton unless the city’s own attorney advises otherwise.
Middleton said he has received the requested information from Friendswood and several other cities. “My office got an angry phone call from one city,” he said.
“I don’t really understand why anyone would be frantic or fearful or worried or angry about a disclosure.”
“It’s taxpayer money. Taxpayers need to know this information.”
Baytown city spokeswoman Alicia Jauregui said the city did not receive the letter.