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Livin' Large on Your Money

The editorial below was written by Vincent Vanata, State Committeeman for Park County, and published recently in the Cody Enterprise and the Powell Tribune. We have included it here because elected officials, such as your County Commissioners, utilize taxpayer dollars to lobby against the People of Wyoming and for the consolidation of their power. This isn't healthy for our system of government.

Within Wyoming there are a number of associations representing elected officials, governing bodies, special districts, political subdivisions, and employee associations. 

These associations typically are funded through dues provided by the governing bodies with taxpayer dollars and operate with representation from the respective governing body. Some of the associations provide benefits to member governing bodies which may not be available to the governing body alone. You know, the good things.

However, these associations are also funded by outside (special interest) groups.  It’s now where the water starts to become muddied.

An association funded by taxpayer and special interest money, with executive committee and board members who are also either elected officials or public employees operates as a private organization outside of the constraints of a public meeting or a union in a right to work state.

When we look at a school board or a county commission attending “training” and a quorum of that governing body exists it is technically a “meeting” of that specific governing body that should be open to the public, but these association meetings or training sessions are not open to the public. Thus, these elected governing bodies can meet, talk on matters, and vote as an association on positions for the association to take when it comes to lobbying the legislature, or the governor. Yet, these elected official’s votes or positions on matters are not made public.

For instance, a municipal association lobbies hard against a piece of legislation which would be a benefit to the people of Wyoming. Let’s say property tax reduction or relief.  Behind the scenes, council members and mayors vote within the association (secretly) to lobby against property tax reduction with the mindset of how much money municipalities will lose. However, at City and Town meetings the same council members and mayors talk about the impact of increasing property taxes is having on constituents.

Are we getting it yet? As an association these elected officials are against property tax reform, in the public forum they speak sympathetically for their constituents. 

However, where is the headway being made? It’s these taxpayer funded lobbyists who exude the greatest effect upon legislators while the general public believes their elected officials are doing what is in the public’s best interest. That’s called Kabuki Theater.

Additionally, when these elected officials travel to “training” and “meeting” events with the association they are paid for that travel, per diem, and expenses by taxpayer dollars. 

So how do we fix it? First if an elected official wants to be a part of an association which is not open to the public then they should be paying their own dues and expenses, not the taxpayers. Afterall, professional dues and expenses are tax deductible. Second, if these associations have registered lobbyists, they should be required to report their contributors and sponsors with their monetary contributions to the Secretary of State’s office. Third, government employee associations should be prohibited from being funded by governmental entities and prevented from lobbying legislative members or participating in any collective bargaining.

Legislation crafted to create constraints on how taxpayer dollars are used under the auspice of association expenses and travel need to be introduced and codified into law. 

The people of Park County are engaged enough to know how these associations are working against the will of the people. Typically, when people get elected to office, they may mean well, and prioritize what’s best for the people, but that more often than not morphs into what is best for government. The people of Park County will be asking local elected officials how they casted their votes on important bills through their associations! 



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