PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Opinion

March 15, 2013

Lobbying in the Texas Legislature

NEDERLAND — If you talk to most long-term lobbyists, they will, more than likely, tell you they aren't guilty of buying votes — that would be buying votes in the Texas Legislature or the U.S. Congress. But they would be pretty much spouting a large fib.

Lobbying, of course, happens everywhere, and the folks lobbied — influenced to vote pro or con — are the legislative, executive, and administrative branches of any government.

Put simply, business groups — Corporate America — pour funds into a favorite candidate's race to be elected so he'll be obligated to vote in favor of Corporate America. That has gone on forever, but it's gotten worse since the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision.

And there was a time when groups of small farmers lobbied, but now small farmers are overcome by corporate farmers — which is more of Corporate America.

At every session of the Texas Legislature one can find hundreds of lobbyists in attendance. Many of them are longtime political people, many are ex-legislators themselves. So they are very knowledgeable about the legislative process.

And, to put it mildly, lobbyists do a lot of wining, dining, and “entertaining”... I'll leave it to you to determine what that “entertaining” might consist of. Legislators may be taken to luncheons or dinner, invited on hunting and fishing trips and other “junkets”. Liquor and “entertainment” are supplied on those trips, of course.

And there are, always, lobbyists on both sides of a bill before any legislative group. It is fascinating to watch when well-funded pro and anti groups butt heads.

In the 1977 session, for instance, there was that kind of fight, which I think is amazingly similar to the Keystone Pipeline dispute going on right now.

In the '77 fight there was a conflict over a slurry pipeline, between the railroads and private utilities. The question was whether the railroads would be forced to give the right-of-way to a pipeline from Colorado that would bring crushed coal, mixed with water, to power plants in Texas. Railroads, of course, already hauled that coal, and they weren't about to allow competing pipelines to cross their property. The lobbying battle was fierce, since both sides were so well funded. The utilities won out over the railroad association in the end. Then, during the same session, lawyers and doctors faced off about limiting damages from malpractice suits. The lawyers won that one.

In Texas, the cost of living is lower for middle and upper-class incomes than in most other states. That's probably due to no state income taxes and other favorable treatment for those more affluent individuals. And, as Gov Goodhair Perry says, Texas is more hospitable to corporations than any other state. I know that one time there were more insurance companies in Texas than anywhere else, and I expect that's still true.

Texas was also the last state in the union to form a private utilities commission. But that probably didn't make much difference, the already existing boards or commissions were already owned — dominated — by the industry they were supposed to regulate.

Therefore, it's pretty easy to see that big money, corporate groups lobby or directly communicate with legislators to secure desired policy. They not only provide selective information to legislators, they reason, persuade, exhort, cajole, and sometimes threaten, while trying to bring legislators to think like they do and vote for their side. And they have plenty of money from Corporate America to do all that.

People who think that sort of lobbying is just super-okay, will usually say that any group in Texas is able and entitled to bring its ideas to the attention of the Texas Legislature.

Yeah, sure, but we the people don't have the funds to influence or “entertain” the lege by the tactics those well-funded lobbyists use. Those tactics are expensive and only available to affluent groups. So, once more the US Supreme Court — Republican dominated — decision raises its “Citizens United” head.

So well-funded corporate interest groups,lobbyists, are probably more influential in the Texas Lege than in the US Congress. Why? Because we don't any longer have a competitive party system. And because of little or no media attention to lobbying techniques or activities.

So we're back to square one — union workers and waitresses vote for corporate American candidates, both Republican and Democrats, owned by corporate America, while “Citizens United” allows corporations and unions  to spend, undisclosed, all they wish on lobbying.

Neal Morgan of Nederland is a retired educator. Contact him at neal.morgan1@yahoo.com.

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