in Houston, Texas

City of Houston shopping for federal lobbyist, looks to trim overall lobbying costs

Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010, 08:00AM CST
By Steve Miller
capitol

Help wanted: City of 2 million-plus seeks go-getter who can glide through the halls of Congress, knows the issues and players and -- this is important -- who can bring home our money.

The city of Houston is looking for an advocate in the Beltway, and officials hope to save taxpayers a few bucks in the process by eliminating a longtime firm working exclusively for the airport.

The new lobbying contractor for federal issues, including aviation, could edge out ZuckertScoutt & Rasenberger, which has been paid $1.3 million over the last decade to work on behalf of the Houston Airport System. Zuckert's earnings represent 32 percent of the $4 million the city has paid to lobbyists to D.C. since 2000, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

"It’s the hope of both Mayor (Annise) Parker and myself that we can combine the contracts into one and recognize some cost savings,” said Darrin Hall, head of intergovernmental affairs for the city.
 
Lobbying powerhouse Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld handles other city business, from bills dealing with freight rail costs to opposing legislation that would allow online travel companies to withhold taxes on hotels from cities.
 
Greater efficiency might mean less time for ceremony -- Zuckert lobbyist Rachel Trinder reported working last year on "resolutions commending the 40th anniversary of IAH airport in Houston," introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, though her primary focus was to bring home funds from the Federal Aviation Administration.
 
Trinder declined to comment on her work or whether her firm would try to regain the contract.

But why do local governments need million-dollar lobbyists to work on the same issues carried by a region's Congressional delegation? This has been a point of criticism for years.

“I have always opposed using tax dollars to hire lobbyists," U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, said via e-mail. "Mayor Parker has shown a willingness to take on tough issues and cut spending wherever possible. I hope she continues on that path with regards to this decision.” 

 

As cities, counties and school districts cut jobs and ask residents to pony up for new taxes, such criticism gets more pointed.

 
“The mayor should be the best lobbyist a city has,” said Steve Ellis, vice-president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a D.C.-based outfit that advocates for responsible public spending. “And these U.S. lawmakers, part of their job is to deal with federal legislation, the same thing these lobbyists are being paid millions to do.”
 
Mayors, county judges, board members and other elected officials should be complementing a region’s federal elected presence, Ellis said.
 
Others contend that mindset ignores the nitty-gritty of the political process.
 
"The unfortunate part of politics is that we need the same stroke that corporate interests have," said Cathy Sisk, director of Harris County's Office of Legislative Relations, which handles the county's $216,000 federal lobbying budget. "It gives the taxpayer the same influence as the people who make huge campaign contributions."
 
The downside to letting the U.S. reps handle the lobbying role is that they end up agitating for bucks just for their districts, even if needs are greater elsewhere, said Peter Sepp, executive vice-president of the National Taxpayers Union.
 
“At the same time, there is an argument that this kind of thing, earmarking, is accelerated by lobbyists,” said Sepp, whose Virginia-based group advocates for smaller government.
 
The current arrangement of taxpayer-funded lobbyists often results in a circular money grab. Harris County, for example, lobbies for money in competition with other regions of Texas. Earlier this year, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act became a money grab for congressional districts all over the U.S. Harris County paid its longtime lobbyist Jack Peterson $40,000 in part to advocate for earmarks from the bill.
 
 
The city of Houston has received no proposals for its lobbying contract, which runs two years with a third-year option, Hall said. The deadline is Nov. 1 for the contract beginning in March.
 
Hall said he expects proposals from the firm Patton Boggs, which was the city's primary lobbyist before Akin got the job in 2005.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Photo of the Capitol by flickr user wallyg, used via a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, we'd love to hear about it. E-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

Comments
Be the first to post a comment.
Video
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
State Rep candidate, in email, shows scorn for Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson I suppose it’s not much of a shock to her supporters but Texas House District 150 Republican candidate Valoree Swanson is no fan of...
Update:1 hour 25 min
Big Jolly Politics
Leaked email shows current & former ESD 11 Commissioners asked to serve on voter guide panel Two current & two former Harris County Emergency Services District 11 Commissioners are among the group of 26 people asked to...
Update:3 hours 48 min
Big Jolly Politics
Don't gloat that Texas is ahead on forensic-science reform Meagan Flynn at the Houston Press is right that Texas is ahead of the feds and the rest of the country right now on forensic science...
Update:11 hours 28 min
Grits for Breakfast
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Defensive Line 926 Robbie St. [HAR] … Read...
Update:23 hours 32 min
Swamplot
Ivy Lofts To Release Even Newer Drawings in October, Break Ground in January Actually, the rendering above is not the newest look for the Ivy Lofts, PR head Jared Anthony tells Swamplot this afternoon. Anthony says...
Update:1 day 2 min
Swamplot
BJ’s Oldies Not Pulling Out of Westheimer at Park St., Just Shifting Around a Little This morning a reader spotted some cleaning out going on at the Westheimer Rd. storefront of BJ’s Oldies Antiques. The shop...
Update:1 day 3 hours
Swamplot
With poll numbers stagnant, Stein and Johnson spend big in August Libertarian White House candidate Gary Johnson had a fundraisinig boomlet in August; he hopes to build poll numbers so he can participate...
Update:1 day 3 hours
Open Secrets
Larry Lessig takes his plan to Congress Lawrence Lessig pushed public funding and voucher programs at a discussion on campaign finance this week. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Lawrence...
Update:1 day 5 hours
Open Secrets
Swamplot Sponsor: Central Bank Today’s sponsor: Houston’s own Central Bank. Swamplot appreciates the continued support! Central Bank has 4 (central) Houston...
Update:1 day 5 hours
Swamplot
Oyster Tycoons Fight over Baybottom Territory as Reefs Recover from Flooding More action is expected next week in the Galveston County courtroom hosting part of the ongoing underwater real estate fight...
Update:1 day 6 hours
Swamplot
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 4 years 3 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 4 years 3 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 4 years 3 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 4 years 3 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 4 years 3 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 4 years 3 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 4 years 3 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 4 years 3 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
© 2016 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement