As someone who has been lobbying for pro-life bills in the Texas Capitol for 27 years, I know that without a clean and honest legislative process, the pro-life movement has little chance of success. Unless the public can know who are being paid to influence the legislative process, how much they are spending, and who benefits from that money, corruption will creep in. Transparency, shining light on the legislative process, is the best way to prevent corruption that could thwart future pro-life gains.
What is lobbying? The Texas Government Code has a very clear definition that includes “communicat[ing] directly with one or more members of the legislative or executive branch to influence legislation or administrative action.”
For decades state law has required persons who are paid to lobby the Texas Legislature or who spend significant amounts of money directly on legislators to register as lobbyists. The state agency that regulates the registration process is the Texas Ethics Commission, or TEC, and their website lists all registered lobbyists and their clients going back to 1998. Registered lobbyists are then required to file activity reports listing the amount of money spent influencing the legislators and their staff. That includes meals, events, gifts, etc.
The process is far from burdensome. I have been registering as a lobbyist for nearly 20 years. Our paid lobby staff has grown; now four of us register, including Erin Blauvelt, Leah Brown, and Deirdre Cooper. Even for a statewide non-profit organization like Texas Alliance for Life the cost is only $150 per year per lobbyist.
Every January we each file an application form to register for the coming year and an activity report for the previous year. The activity report lists the funds Texas Alliance for Life has spent influencing the legislative process. We are not required to disclose the donors of our nonprofit organization.
Does this affect individual Texans who are not paid to lobby? No, it does not. Anyone who is not paid more than $1,000 per calendar quarter for lobbying or who does not spend at least $500 per quarter directly benefiting legislators or their staff is not required to register. Volunteer members of our lobby team like Kathy Haigler, Christopher Maska, Davida Stike, and Terry Williams need not register.
That means the thousands of pro-life citizens who make phone calls, send emails, or travel to the Capitol to contact their legislators about the life issues are exempt.
Recently a lobbyist who is paid a six-figure salary by his non-profit organization was issued a stiff fine by the TEC for failing to register as a lobbyist. Although that lobbyist did register in 2008 and 2009, he failed to register the following two years, 2010 and 2011, and was fined $5,000 for each year. Here is the TEC’s Final Order. He claims the TEC should not enforce the lobby registration law because it is an “unconstitutional” restriction on his right to free speech. Yet the TEC points out that the lobbyist “has not pointed . . . to any court decision that has held the Texas lobbyist registration statute to be unconstitutional” to back up that claim.
Texas Alliance for Life does not oppose the lobby registration law. Registering as a lobbyist is not about limiting anyone’s speech, and it does not have that effect. This law is about tracking the flow of large amounts of money in the legislative process.
An honest legislative process, based on the principles of integrity and transparency, has allowed our many pro-life legislative successes that have saved countless lives to become a reality.