February 13, 2015
BY ANNA M. TINSLEYATINSLEY@STAR-TELEGRAM.COM
Note to taxpayer-funded lobbyists: Don’t come knocking on Konni Burton’s door.
Burton, a first-term state senator, announced a new policy this week that she won’t talk to lobbyists discussing issues for a governmental entity paying for their work with taxpayer dollars.
“Many taxpayers don’t even realize their own money is being used to pay lobbyists who are down in Austin, advocating for policies that could be in direct conflict with their own beliefs,” Burton, R-Colleyville, said in a statement. “As I said on the campaign trail over and over, I am here to defend and represent the taxpayer.
“Our office is more than willing to meet with any lobbyist regarding issues facing businesses, individuals or trade organizations, just not those who are getting paid with taxpayer dollars, who very well could be pushing policy that is in direct conflict with the will of the people,” she said. “We would rather see these tax dollars that are used to pay lobbyists returned to the taxpayer, where it belongs.”
Burton has met with a number of city and county and school officials throughout the district, since taking office next month, and her staff says she’s more than happy to work directly with local officials.
Some of those local officials say they are trying to figure out how to abide by Burton’s new policy.
“I do appreciate her thought that the money should go back to taxpayers,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said. “But there’s a reason people use lobbyists. Everybody can’t be up-to-speed on everything.
“We all have full-time jobs and we depend on our lobbyists to research and advise us on issue,” Price said.
Burton political consultant Luke Macias did note that people such as T.J. Patterson, a city of Fort Worth employee who monitors bills and works with legislators, will still be able to work with Burton and her staff.
“I’ll call her,” Price said. “If this is what she wants, we will do it.”
The amount local communities allocate for state lobbying varies.
In Tarrant County, for instance, officials have a contract not to exceed $49,200 for legislative and administrative matters in Washington, D.C., but no funds are earmarked specifically for lobbying efforts in Austin, said Marc Flake, the county’s public information officer.
And in Arlington, about $83,000 is earmarked for state lobbyists this fiscal year, said Jennifer Wichmann, management resources director for the city.
Burton is addressing an issue that has long been a concern for many, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“But she will be alone in this,” he said. “Fortunately, Konni Burton is one of 31 senators and there are other offices to go to.
“But it will create difficulties for all the entities in Tarrant County.”
Macias said Burton’s new policy wasn’t sparked by any incident or issue.
“It came from a discussion she had with her staff,” he said, which prompted a letter regarding the new policy that was emailed to lobbyists and media as well. “This is a personal thing.”
Some lobbyists are privately saying they are concerned about Burton’s new practice, which was announced one month into the new 140-day legislative session.
Some suggest she should give back any donations she received from the very lobbyists she now won’t talk to about certain issues.
In the House, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, has filed House Bill 1257 that would prevent officials from spending money on lobbyists “to directly or indirectly influence or attempt to influence the outcome of any legislation pending before the Legislature.”
Burton is considering carrying the bill in the Senate.