Colorado Domestic Policy Top Issues Transparency

In Denver, They Lobbied, and You Paid

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The Colorado Sun’s exploration of the record $51 million “spent lobbying the … legislature and state government last fiscal year” found that “a land-use measure promoted by [Governor Jared] Polis as a way to tackle Colorado’s affordable housing crisis” saw the most action. It attracted the attention of “lobbyists and lobbying firms representing nearly 200 clients.”

SPPI remembers that bill. It featured prominently in “They Lobby — You Pay: Why and How to Stop Taxpayer-Funded Advocacy.” Released exactly three months ago, our paper exposed the methods that local- and state-government entities employ to influence lawmakers in the American Southwest. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

In March 2023 … Polis announced his support for Senate Bill 23-213, designed “to overhaul the state’s land-use laws … to increase access to affordable housing.” The executive director of the Colorado Municipal League called the legislation “breathtaking overreach.” A few weeks later, a “coalition of mayors in 39 cities and towns in the Denver metro region” announced its opposition. Pitkin County — home to Aspen — sent its manager “to the state capitol … to discuss … concerns about the bill with legislators,” complete with “‘talking points’ … that outline the county’s concerns.” Many municipalities joined counties in adopting resolutions in opposition to the bill. Lone Tree, a small city in Douglas County, claimed that Senate Bill 23-213 “silences the voices of our residents and disregards prior decisions made by the voters, by taking away the right to be heard at public hearings on zoning matters or to use their constitutional rights of initiative or referendum to address zoning and land use matters,” and “strongly” urged lawmakers “to vote no on this unprecedented preemption of our land use and zoning authority.”

When the session ended, the governor’s “top legislative priority” was dead, and there’s no question that taxpayer-funded lobbying played a major role in the defeat.

Unsurprisingly, the Sun’s Sandra Fish documented that two “local governments made the list of the state’s top 15 spenders” on lobbying. Denver’s consolidated city-county government forked over $200,417. That was more than was spent by the Colorado Association Of Home Builders. More than AT&T’s sum. More than the Colorado Retail Council’s expenditures.

Senate Bill 23-213 may have scored the highest, but Fish’s list of the top 20 bills “in terms of lobbyists and lobbying firms employed” includes legislation impacting Medicaid, the unionization of state employees, hospital fees, and mental-health assessments in government schools. Rest assured, public entities did what they could to influence each.

Finally, it’s important to remember that while Colorado’s local governments are required to disclose their lobbying expenses, the same can’t be said for many state-level officials. The exempted include members “of the public utilities commission, the industrial claim appeals office, the state board of land commissioners, the office of the property tax administrator, the state parole board, and the state personnel board,” members “of any board or commission serving without compensation except for per diem allowances provided by law and reimbursement of expenses,” and members “of the governor’s cabinet and personal staff employees in the offices of the governor and the lieutenant governor whose functions are confined to such offices and who report directly to the governor or lieutenant governor.”

Sadly, Colorado is not unique. Governments in all eight states of the American Southwest force their taxpayers, in various ways, to subsidize lobbying. It’s a practice that can, and should, be banned.

By D. Dowd Muska

Dowd brings nearly 30 years of research and writing experience to the Institute. A veteran of several think tanks, he is an expert on government at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels.

Raised on an apple orchard in the Connecticut River Valley, D. Dowd Muska is a researcher, writer, editor, and commentator. His focus is the nexus of fiscal policy, economic development, and technology.

Mr. Muska is the author of numerous policy studies, and his writing has appeared in newspapers throughout the nation, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal, The Detroit News, the Orlando Sentinel, the Cape Cod Times, the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Hartford Courant, the Waco Tribune-Herald, the Albuquerque Journal, the New Haven Register, and The Oklahoman. A graduate of The George Washington University, he lives in the Albuquerque metro area, but has started (very) early planning for a relocation to the Sierra Blanca in Lincoln County, New Mexico. He recently launched the Substack platform No Dowd About It.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *