Lobbyists at the State Public Trough

Who is a public employee?

The answer to that should be simple: Someone who works directly for a government entity. But in 20 states, the definition of public employee for pension purposes includes lobbyists, an Associated Press investigation has found. AP notes:

The debate is more about principle than big money, since the staffs of such organizations are relatively small and make barely a ripple in huge state retirement systems. The eight New York associations, for example, have fewer than 120 total employees out of 633,100 current workers in the state’s $158.7 billion pension system.

Yet, the cost to taxpayers is greater than that, because this is money that state governments use to lobby for money for themselves, at the expense of taxpayers both within their borders and elsewhere. Indeed, the AP story itself notes.

In many states, lobbying groups for states and counties take positions that could conflict with taxpayer interests, such as advocating to weaken caps on property tax increases and boosting state school aid.

Thus, state lobbyists on the direct public dole arguably play a political similar role as government employee unions — as an organized, motivated, and well-funded permanent lobby for bigger government. In fact, trying to expand the definition of “public” is something that government unions have been trying to do for some time now, trying to organize government contractors, as my coauthors and I note in our 2009 Cato Institute study on public sector unionization.

Likewise, expanding the definition of “public” to state lobbyists means that taxpayers are paying a bigger bill for states’ lobbying for more of their own money.