Last summer, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey fired all professional lobbyists being paid for by state agencies. Now the legislature is considering giving that ban the force of law.
A measure by Tucson-area Republican Sen. Gail Griffin would bar any state agency, office, board or commission from contracting with outside individuals or groups for lobbying services.
The bill provides an exception for state boards headed by elected officials, and state employees could continue to engage in lobbying on behalf of their employers.
Ducey’s executive order called the practice of state entities hiring lobbyists “unnecessary and unjustified,” and instructed the Arizona Department of Administration to immediately terminate any such contracts.
The governor’s office said it knew of about $1 million was being spent by agencies lobbying other entities in state government, although that is likely a bare minimum figure. State agencies did not keep comprehensive records on how much they spent on lobbying, and of the 200 or so boards that the governor had surveyed about their lobbying expenses, 80 did not reply.
Ducey’s action terminated roughly a dozen contracts, mostly entered into by the state’s health regulatory boards. Eight such panels, including the Arizona Medical Board and the Board of Dental Examiners, had retained Phoenix-based public affairs firm Goodman Schwartz.
The State Board of Nursing had hired Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP, a major law firm in the state.
Stuart Goodman — principal with Goodman Schwartz — told Watchdog that regulatory boards like the ones his firm represented serve an independent function, and as such lacked the level of direct relationship with the legislature and the governor that a cabinet-level agency might enjoy.
Contract lobbyists, he says, played the same role for these boards that they would with any client, proactively advancing legislation in their interests, while reactively working to mitigate the effects of legislation they object to.
Nevertheless, Good man said, “every governor gets to organize the executive branch in the way that best works for them.”
For Ducey, he noted in his executive order that regulatory entities were using taxpayer-funded lobbyists to “expand the regulatory authority of government and impose additional transaction costs for those in the regulated community.”
Ducey press secretary Patrick Ptak told Watchdog that “in the past, state entities often hired outside lobbyists to expand their authority – at the public’s expense,” and the governor’s focus remains on “empowering the people of Arizona, not government agencies.”
Ducey had spent much of 2016 working to lower the regulatory burden imposed by Arizona’s health boards — which are responsible for licensing and regulating medical professionals — and increase the transparency of their operations.
The lobbying expenditures were, in effect, the boards fighting back.
The Arizona Republic reported that the boards’ stiff resistance forced the withdrawal of one bill that would have merged many of their functions within the Department of Health, and the watering down of another aimed at increased transparency to the point that Ducey vetoed it.
In his veto statement, Ducey called on the legislature to continue working to “aggressively address needed reforms of our boards and commissions, including increasing transparency, providing appropriate accountability, and protecting the state from liability.” He also vowed to explore other options to “shine a light on this dark corner of state government.”
The bill has made slow but steady progress through the state legislature.
The Senate passed it on a party line vote. The same thing happened in the a House committee, where four Republicans supported the measure in the Government Committee and three Democrats opposed it.
Sen. Juan Mendez, a Tempe-area Democrat, had expressed concern during committee debate that an outright prohibition could adversely affect the operations of Arizona’s Clean Elections Board, one of the agencies that had retained a lobbyist prior to Ducey’s executive order.
Arizona would become the 11th state to prohibit state agencies from hiring lobbyists. Ten other states currently have outright bans on the practice, while another four have more limited restrictions.
Christian Britschgi is a reporter for Arizona Watchdog. Contact him at [email protected] and on Twitter @christianbrits.