Lawmakers reacted with shock and awe when the Clean Elections Commission, which provides a way for candidates to run for office without lobbyist contributions, hired a lobbyist for $7,500 a month.
"I didn't think it was appropriate," Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, said in an understatement.
Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, had a more pointed reaction: She quickly penned legislation that would ban any public agency or government from sending a lobbyist to the Legislature. advertisement
That measure, which would put the proposal before voters in November 2008, passed its first hearing last week on a 4-3 party-line vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
Proponents say it's a waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars for the local city hall to hire a lobbyist to represent its issues; those messages should be carried to the statehouse by citizens themselves.
But opponents say it's an unrealistic and unfair rule that tips the balance in favor of private-sector lobbyists. While corporate CEOs could speak through their lobbyists, the bill would silence city and school officials and leave that task to citizens who might not be able to camp out at the Legislature waiting for issues to arise.
The debate over public dollars for public-sector lobbyists gained steam earlier this month, when lawmakers realized the publicly funded Clean Elections Commission had hired a lobbyist.
Commission Director Todd Lang said he made the move because he is overwhelmed by the number of bills lawmakers are considering to alter or repeal the public-elections system. Arizona voters established the system in 1998.
"We have 12 bills and more coming," Lang said. "We have another repealer on. I would be happy to get rid of my lobbyist if they'd get rid of their repealer."
Even more surprising in many circles is the lobbyist Lang hired: Mike Williams, who has earned a reputation as an organizer extraordinaire of candidate fundraisers, which are heavily attended by lobbyists. Private fundraisers are at the other end of the scale from the publicly funded Clean Elections system.
"Philosophically, I have not been a big fan of Clean Elections," Williams said. "That would be an understatement." But, he said, he believes the state's publicly funded election system is here to stay, so he signed on to work for changes that, in some cases, he believes will improve the system.
Lang is not worried about Williams' antipathy toward Clean Elections.
"I don't care if he's for us or against us, as long as he can be persuasive," Lang said.
The hire drew attention to the realm of public-sector lobbyists, the subject of a recent report by the Goldwater Institute, a non-profit group that promotes smaller government.
The report tallied 900 people on government payrolls who are registered as lobbyists and concluded they outnumber lawmakers by a 10-1 ratio.
"I wonder how you ever get a moment of peace," Matthew Ladner, vice director of research for the institute, told lawmakers last week.
An Arizona Republic analysis last year found that there were four times as many private groups with lobbyists as public groups. The analysis tallied 3,600 public and private lobbyists, a total that outnumbers legislators by a 40-1 ratio.
Critics say the Goldwater report overstated the number of people on the public payroll who actually lobby. Many more register as lobbyists than ever appear at the statehouse, due to the way the state's lobbying laws are written.
Gray said the Goldwater report was the impetus for her bill, SCR 1016. It would bar any public official or employee from lobbying the Legislature as well as prohibit public bodies from rural electric districts to school boards to city halls from using public dollars to send lobbyists to the Capitol.
However, those public groups and officials could provide information, if requested, as long as they do not recommend a course of action.
Some feel the measure is written so strictly that it would prohibit the governor from pushing for her budget priorities. Others argued that it would give lobbyists for private companies more clout than they already have.