The AG can’t be thrilled by the prospect of ruling on Chisum’s request for an opinion of whether public or private entities that receive state funds can use those funds to pay a registered lobbyist. As Chisum has drafted the question, his inquiry includes even the question of whether an entity that receives state funds could rent office space from a lobbyist.
Local elected officials, of course, may lobby on their own without having to register. But it is impossible to keep up with what is happening in the Capitol from a distance, in one’s spare time, which is why many local government units have sought full-time representation, particularly as the Legislature has attempted to restrict their ability to raise money through appraisal caps, revenue caps, and voter approval of school tax increases. That’s what this opinion request is really all about: It’s a prelude to a legislative effort to prevent counties, cities, and school districts from hiring lobbyists to oppose measures that restrict their ability to raise revenue. Chisum’s request puts Abbott squarely in the middle between the fiscal conservatives on one side (including the state’s leadership trio of Perry, Dewhurst, and Craddick, all of whom have been indifferent at best, hostile at worst, to the principle of local control), and local elected officials for counties, cities, and school districts – particularly those in Republican areas.
The government code may give Abbott a way out:
“A political subdivision or a private entity that receives state funds may not use the funds to pay lobbying expenses (1) received by the recipient of the funds; (2) a person or entity that is required to register with the Texas Ethics Commission under Chapter 305 ….”
Since “the funds” refers to state funds, Abbott may be able to take the position that as long as a local entity does not comingle state funds with other funds, it can use other revenue to pay lobbyists. This is NOT the answer that fiscal conservatives are looking for. On the other hand, if Abbott takes the fiscally conservative position that would prevent local governments from hiring lobbyists, he will anger local officials around the state, including those in Republican areas he must carry in 2010, when he plans to run for lieutenant governor if Dewhurst runs for governor. Every one of those local officials has a constituency of his or her own that they can influence. For Abbott or against him.