Colorado to look at taxpayer-paid lobbyists
November 20, 2009
DENVER – At a time of budget cuts, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration last year paid employees and outside contractors $1.1 million to lobby state lawmakers on legislation ranging from renewable energy tax credits to increasing motor vehicle license fees.
The administration and legislators are reviewing the long-standing practice of one branch of government lobbying another – one that predates the Ritter administration – as Colorado tries to close a $1 billion budget gap.
The governor’s office estimates state employees spent $1 million in salary time lobbying lawmakers on bills affecting their agencies. That includes public information officers and staff lobbyists, whose duties also include responding to queries from the public and promoting their agencies’ work.
The administration also hired outside lobbyists to advance its interests.
Those contracts included $25,000 to promote tax credits for the Governor’s Energy Office, which advocates renewable energy; $40,000 for several bills, including one raising vehicle registration fees; $20,000 to protect agricultural programs, including egg and pet breeder inspectors; and $35,000 on behalf of the Department of Public Safety, including its pension plans, according to records obtained by The Associated Press under the Colorado Open Records Act.
Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor is spending less on lobbying than his predecessor. According to administration records, Republican Gov. Bill Owens spent $1.9 million to lobby lawmakers in 2005-2006.
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Dreyer said last year’s contracts were issued when the economy was still strong and that the governor has asked all agencies to find ways to cut spending, including lobbying efforts.
“It’s also the right question to ask: Can we do this for less? And we are doing it for less,” Dreyer said. “In places where we have outside contractors to save on hiring more personnel, we do, and when one person can do two jobs, we do.”
Republican Rep. Kent Lambert, a member of the Joint Budget Committee that sets state spending priorities, has asked all executive branch agencies to list amounts spent on lobbying, after the Legislature killed his bill to require that taxpayer money spent on lobbying be returned to the state treasury.
Most state agencies under Ritter’s control turned over their information to the Joint Budget Committee, which provided it to the AP.
“I don’t understand why we’re using taxpayers’ money to lobby for bigger government programs for their own departments, especially when we don’t have the money,” said Lambert, of Colorado Springs.
Gayle Berry, a former Republican lawmaker from Grand Junction, won the $25,000 contract for the Governor’s Energy Office. She said she monitored 42 bills under her contract, which ended in May.
According to her final report to Ritter, the Governor’s Energy Office got most of what it wanted, including a bill providing incentives for developing solar energy systems, a bill requiring homebuilders to offer homes prewired for renewable energy, and obtaining a tax credit for fuel-efficient vehicles at a time when lawmakers are trying to eliminate $132 million in other tax credits.
Berry said it’s an “age-old question” whether it’s proper for one branch of government to use taxpayers’ money to lobby another branch for its projects. Renewable energy has been Ritter’s top priority since he took office in 2006.
Amy Oliver, director of the Colorado Transparency Project for the conservative Independence Institute, said it doesn’t make sense for government to lobby government for projects the state cannot afford.
“If we’re in a financial crisis, how can they justify this when they’re cutting funding for child welfare programs? How on earth can they spend that amount of money for government lobbyists?” Oliver said.
The lobbying figures don’t include amounts spent on public relations and promotional brochures, including a $145,000 contract to a public relations manager to promote the governor’s Low-income Energy Assistance Program. LEAP provides subsidies to help low-income clients pay heating and electric bills.