Got Conflict? Part-2 LOBBYING

Prop 100 passed in May of 2010 which supporters estimated would bring an additional $1.8 Billion to both Public Safety and Education.  While the amounts of money generated is debatable from several perspectives, now that the dust has settled, the tallys are in, at least two undeniable facts exist.  The first, Arizona state sales tax is increased 1% from previous levels. Second, political action committees have recorded with the Secretary of State’s office revealing an enormous sum in expenditures to get this measure passed.  Political Action Committees or ‘PACs’ ranging from the AEA – Arizona Education Association (teacher’s union), to several education foundations and special interests, to groups of citizens banded together become directly or indirectly involved in the massive bureaucracy that is public education.  See a problem yet?  So long as folks are spending their own money for a purpose they support, there’s no problem right?

Campaign finance reform has been a really big issue over the past several years.  It seems that each and every election year there’s something new and the whole system gets wrapped around the axel with either following the existing regulations, or requiring new ones.  Tracking each and every cent that’s spent on one campaign or another has become such an issue that once two people decide to join together to support a particular candidate or proposition, with rare exception, they need to file as a PAC or Political Action Committee.  So now we generally know the process and how we’ve seen it work in the past.  What’s the problem?  Where’s the conflict?

The conflict may not be a conflict at all for those whose tax dollars are always being spent in a way that they agree with.  But what happens when a taxing authority like a school district decides to spend money in a way you disagree with?  What recourse do you have?  There’s always the open meetings right?  But for the most part, the only items that get any attention are those items listed on the agenda.  You can put pressure on the school administration as well.  Give a call to the superintendent’s office to let him know how you feel. 

But I thought this article was about lobbying???  And it is.  Finally, we get to lobbying.  When you call your district superintendent, or when you show up to a school board meeting for a moment of public speaking on an issue, or when you pull your school board members aside or send them an email to try to pursuade them to consider a particular aspect, you are lobbying.  There are people who actually do this as an occupation, and they are paid for it.  Herein lies the rub.  School districts, special interests supported by school district resources, organizations that receive funds from school districts and so on… many of them contribute funding or may even have a full-time staffer that is a lobbyist.  Is this a problem?  Perhaps it’s not if you agree with the effort the lobbyist is trying to accomplish.  But what of all the other tax payers who may not agree?

The big question – Should tax dollars collected for education purposes be spent paying for lobbyists and campaigns to raise more tax dollars?  Isn’t this simply a vicious cycle and a waste of resources that could be put to more beneficial use? 

A modest suggestion – Cease and desist all funding of lobbying efforts and campaigning of legislative agendas when the resources used come from tax payers that are intended for a different use.  The AZ Legislature is likely to entertain a bill that puts this idea into law this next session.  If you like the idea, you may wish to contact your state legislators.  You’ll only need to know what district you are in.  Chances are that if you live in Gilbert, you are in legislative district 22.  For the next legislative session, your legislators are Andy Biggs, Eddie Farnsworth, and Steve Urie.  They all take office officially on Monday, January 10, 2011.

The Arizona School Board Association or ASBA has an extremely strong lobbying interest.  Each and every election year, they work hard to recruit new school board members to support their legislative agenda.  It’s right out in the open.  Check out an exerpt from their periodical publications. ASBA Advocates  Moreover, Gilbert Public Schools supports and helps maintain the websites for GEF – Gilbert Education Foundation and PLAN – Parent Legislative Action Network, both of which have a legislative agenda.  PLAN is heavily associated with the teachers union and advocates for the union as well as having a very specific legislative purpose which the title of the organization suggests. feels compelled to continue to shed light on the various areas where public funding and resources are used to support the efforts of special interest groups.  It becomes very apparent that the major role for top administrators in the district is to constantly be on the lookout for how to bring more money into the district.  It’s a given that education takes money.  Ask anyone in the ranks of upper-level administration what a reasonable cap on funding should be however, and you’ll receive not much more than a blank stare.  Perhaps as much effort or more should be spent properly managing the resources already given.  You be the judge.  Feel free to comment on this article.

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