Government lobbying costs fall
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Capitol complex is rife with lobbyists during legislative sessions, there to advocate for businesses and interest groups. But big cities, small towns, school systems and even watershed districts also pay to be part of th...
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Capitol complex is rife with lobbyists during legislative sessions, there to advocate for businesses and interest groups.
But big cities, small towns, school systems and even watershed districts also pay to be part of the action when lawmakers and state officials make decisions that affect them.
In 2006, that lobbying at the state level cost local governments -- and taxpayers -- $7 million, according to a recent report by State Auditor Rebecca Otto.
The report prepared by Otto's office showed local government lobbying expenses dropped by about 9 percent from the previous year. She said that is in line with a previous trend that had been interrupted for about four years during which the state faced budget shortfalls and local governments paid more to protect the money they received from the state.
"You have to be there for your community, your entity and the work you're trying to do and the services you're trying to provide to the citizens," Otto said.
The annual report does not conclude whether local governments spent their money wisely; Otto said that is left to local officials and voters to decide.
A majority of local governments lobbying was done through regional or statewide associations. For instance, more than 60 rural cities pay to belong to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, which spent 57 percent of the dues it received on lobbying. The amount of membership dues spent on lobbying varies by association.
The report also found that 63 local government entities -- from the state's largest city to rural emergency service providers -- paid their staff or hired private lobbyists to advocate for them at the Capitol. That is down from 83 in 2005, when the Legislature was crafting a two-year state budget.
Otto's office advises local governments to make sure they can justify lobbying expenses. Her office provides guidelines local governments should follow when hiring a lobbyist.
Scott Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the News Tribune.