THE REAL TAXPAYER FUNDED LOBBY
For years, certain anti-government groups in Austin have referred to the League as “the taxpayer funded lobby.” (In fact, the League uses no member service fees to conduct its lobbying activities. If any of the name-calling groups had bothered to ask, they could have easily found that out.)
But who is a real taxpayer funded lobby? Newspapers would seem to qualify for that distinction. That became clear during recent legislative hearings and meetings relating to League-proposed electronic publication of bid notices in lieu of print newspaper publication. The discussion turned somewhat unpleasant when representatives of the media’s lobby organizations took aim at Texas cities.
Two key lobbying organizations in the fight to maintain newspapers’ required print legal notices are the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (FOIFT) and the Texas Daily Newspaper Association (TDNA). Daily newspapers can join these organizations and can use the revenue they have received from legally-required public notices to do so. Following the logic that state law requires city (public) funds to be sent to newspapers, then aren’t newspapers part of the so-called “taxpayer funded lobby?”
Cities are required by law to post detailed legal notices on subjects ranging from annexation to zoning and everything in between. Notice to the public is an essential part of open government, but antiquated print ads published in papers with ever-declining subscription don’t appear to be the best way to promote open government. Nevertheless, newspaper organizations are ramping up their opposition to Internet publication of notices. Why? Legal notices provide revenue in an era of declining print subscriptions.
The past president of FOIFT was quoted in the Galveston Daily News as saying that the League “has long been one of the most consistent and most effective opponents of open government in Texas.” That’s not reporting, that’s financial desperation. The source of this animosity toward the League and city officials is obvious. In the tortured thinking of the FOIFT and TDNA, no person is allowed to have a view of an obviously outdated law that differs in the slightest degree from the newspapers’ view. With regard to electronic publication of legal notices, they have convinced themselves that the issue is about something other than their declining revenue.
The tactics of newspaper lobby groups raise an important question. Does the eagerness of the newspapers to influence state policy through their own lobby organization prevent them from fairly and objectively reporting and commenting on those issues? Unfortunately for the ever-diminishing ranks of newspaper readers, that’s apparently the case.