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Executive Agency Legislative Liaisons

A state executive agency is a special interest-government hybrid. It’s a special interest in that its own interests compete for favorable legislation and appropriations against other special interests. At the same time, it’s government because the legislature created it, tells it what to do via statute and budget, and its staff are state employees. Lawmakers are obligated to fund agency activities to some level.

However, “Nobody in the Legislature wants to spend more than what must be spent, but what lawmakers really don’t want to do is cut the budget of something and then get blamed when something goes wrong.”1 Lawmakers defer to agency technical advice from its experts, who often hold advanced degrees in highly specialized topics. Few in the legislature have the technical expertise to contradict an executive agency. On the other hand, few lawmakers trust the agency as to budget matters. So, absent a crisis, appropriations stay fairly consistent adjusted to account for inflation.

Agencies compete in the legislature with other special interests, including other state executive agencies, for money and authority. They compete by lobbying.  “A handful of states have statutes that prohibit agencies from using public funds to retain a [contract] lobbyist.”2 However, absent statutory limits some agencies do hire contract lobbyists.3  In most cases agencies themselves lobby via their own in-house lobbyists called legislative liaisons. These may be agency staff called upon on an ad hoc basis to represent the agency, or the department has its own in-house lobbyists, or most commonly both appear before the legislature.
The department determines whether its lobbyists will be observers, analysts, or advocates. Observers by their presence demonstrate department concern with a matter before the legislature. Analysts answer questions, as needed. Advocates effect legislation which requires taking into account the political consequences of agency policies upon their legislative efforts. They are the legislative liaisons we private lobbyists want to work with..
They cut mutually beneficial deals with special interests and even form coalitions with them. For example, the department wants more personnel. The public employees union wants more members. They work together for funding for more state employees, each enriching each other. I have negotiated with agencies over technical bill language giving agencies and my principals what each wanted.
Legislative liaisons are also valuable to redirecting agency rule making. They have the ear of the political appointees. If a proposed agency action could harm the department’s efforts in the legislature to secure funding or authority, then management may shut down the proposed agency action. I served as a freshman enforcement officer in an executive agency. Management instructed me to cease an enforcement action against a politician because he greatly affected our department’s budget.
A smart lobbyist will make every effort to build relationships with executive agency legislative liaisons. Their technical opposition can kill your bill and their technical approval can move it forward. They can at times help with administrative rule making. However, don’t look to them to help you get state money as legislatures have good reasons to doubt agency budget requests and even their supporting estimates.
  1. Ross Ramsey, “Analysis: Cutting the Texas Budget, But Only Hypothetically,” Texas Tribune (July 13, 2016) https://www.texastribune.org/2016/07/13/analysis-cutting-texas-budget-only-hypothetically/.”
  2. “50 State Chart: Limitations on Public Funds for Lobbying,” National Conference of State Legislatures (August 13, 2019)
    http://www.ncsl.org/research/ethics/50-state-chart-limits-on-public-funds-to-lobby.aspx .
  3. “Stitt issues new executive order to extend the restriction on contract lobbyists,” Oklahoma’s News 4 (July 5, 2019)

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