Mostly True
Claunch
"Austin has more lobbyists working for it than any other municipality in Texas."

Dave Claunch on Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 in a meeting of the West Lake Hills City Council

Mayor Dave Claunch says Austin has more Capitol lobbyists than any other Texas city

Texas cities naturally gear up to fight state encroachment by enlisting lobbyists, an Austin-area leader said.

At a January West Lake Hills City Council meeting, where the council voted to hire a lobbying firm for $40,500 over nine months, Mayor Dave Claunch said employing lobbyists is a way for cities to preserve local control.

Claunch went on to say: "Austin has more lobbyists working for it than any other municipality in Texas, mostly because they are frequently a target of the Legislature."

Is Austin No. 1 among Texas cities in its load of lobbyists patrolling the Capitol?

Claunch, asked how he reached his conclusion, said by phone that's just "common general knowledge."

Checking lobbyist registrations

For our own look, we turned to state filings by lobbyists.

The Texas Ethics Commission has the responsibility of maintaining records including lobbying activity reports. Under state law, lobbyists are required to register with the commission and list their clients annually; the filings are available online.

By phone, Natalia Ashley of the Texas Ethics Commission staff said whenever a lobbyist gets a client, he or she must amend their registration. When this happens, the agency’s public lobbyist-client lists are updated, she said. And when there is an update, she said, the new breakdown replaces the previous version posted online, "so we don’t keep a printed document for each update."

Still with us? This was significant for our purposes, we realized, because a lobbyist-client list for 2015 about the moment Claunch spoke wasn’t readily available to us a few days later. By the time we inquired, that particular list had been overtaken online by updated versions possibly presenting information that would not have existed when Claunch spoke. To fairly check his claim, then, we considered a next-best thing, the agency’s lobbyist-client list for cities covering 2014.

And according to that 2014 Lobby List, updated by the state Jan. 9, 2015, the City of Austin had 22 state-registered lobbyists in 2014, a total greater than the count shown for any of 89 other municipalities. The City of Irving, between Dallas and Fort Worth, came in second with 13. West Lake Hills had four people registered.

Top 5 Texas Cities Based on Number of Registered Outside Lobbyists (2014)

CITY

STATE-REGISTERED LOBBYISTS

Austin

22

Irving

13

Fort Worth

10

Houston

9

San Antonio

9

Source: Texas Ethics Commission, 2014 Lobby List with Concerns (Employers and Clients), Jan. 9, 2015 (downloaded Feb. 4, 2015)

A complication?

We wondered if those reported counts made this a slam-dunk claim. Possibly not, a City of Austin official suggested. John Hrncir, a city governmental relations officer, told us that even though 22 people were listed as lobbying for the city in 2014, he directly consulted with less than half that many.

Similarly, a City of San Antonio official said by phone the number of lobbyists shown in state filings as representing that city do not reflect the lobbyists he regularly consults. Jeff Coyle, San Antonio’s director of intergovernmental relations, said he communicates actively with about four or five of San Antonio’s nine contracted lobbyists.

Brie Franco, legislative attorney for the City of El Paso, said by phone that she talks directly to three of the four lobbyists listed as representing the city in state records. El Paso hired the firm Focused Advocacy to represent its interests in the legislative session, the same firm enlisted by West Lake Hills.

Hrncir said that when a lobbying firm tells the ethics commission its clients and expected payments, the firm may specify all employees with any possibility of doing work on behalf of the city.

We ran Hrncir’s analysis by Jack Gullahorn, president of the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas, which says it’s the only recognized statewide association for the lobby and government affairs community. By phone, Gullahorn said Hrncir was correct and added that the entirety of lobbyists in a firm routinely register for all of the clients listed underneath the firm even though someone at the practice may be the primary contact. Lobbyists do this "to be conservative in following the law," Gullahorn said, by ensuring they don’t get in trouble with the state if someone is found lobbying for the city without reporting that in advance. According to an ethics commission report on laws affecting lobbyists, each lobbyist must provide information about each client  that employs, retains or reimburses them to lobby.

Spending on lobbyists

It’s one thing for Austin to have the most lobbyists indicating they’re out there walking the pink building on its behalf. We also looked into how the city stacks up in spending on contract lobbyists at the Capitol.

According to a resolution approved without debate at the Austin City Council’s Nov. 20, 2014, meeting, council members agreed to contract with 10 lobbying firms for the 2015 legislative session for an amount not to exceed $805,000 all together. But there were a couple changes after that, Hrncir said, because lobbyists Randy Erben and Luis Saenz joined the administration of Gov. Greg Abbott. Hrncir said the city made an individual contract with Brian Yarbrough, Erben’s previous partner. Jennifer Rodriguez from McGuireWoods Consulting was to assume Saenz’s role on the city’s part, Hrncir said.

Lobby Firms Hired by City of Austin Before 2015 Legislative Session

FIRM

MAXIMUM AMOUNT THE FIRM OR LOBBYIST EXPECTS FROM THE CITY FOR LOBBYING

Nora Del Bosque

$65,000

Randall Erben*/Erben & Yarbrough

$90,000

Marta Greytok Consulting

$90,000

Cliff Johnson

$90,000

Demetrius McDaniel/GreenbergTaurig

$90,000

Clayton Pope

$90,000

Luis Saenz*/McGuireWoods Consulting

$70,000

Trent Townsend/Imperium Public Affairs

$65,000

Joe D. Valenzuela

$65,000

Angelo Zottarelli/Adams & Zottarelli, LLC

$90,000

TOTAL

$805,000

*Erben and Saenz were appointed in December 2014 to be legislative director and appointments director, respectively, for Gov. Greg Abbott, with their duties hence shifted by the city to others, according to John Hrncir, a city governmental relations officer.

Source: City of Austin web page, "Resolution No. 20141120-036," adopted by Austin City Council, Nov. 20, 2014 (accessed Feb. 4, 2015)

According to lobbyist filings with the commission covering 2014, Austin also was No. 1 in expected spending on lobbyists at the Texas Capitol.

To approximate the amount city-hired lobbyists expected to be paid during 2014, we noted the minimum values and maximum values of prospective compensation reported by all the lobbyists listed for each of the five cities already having the most outside lobbyists for the year.

In this subset, Austin was No. 1 again (as noted) but Irving, which had more lobbyists than Houston and Fort Worth, was evidently outspent by bigger cities.

Projected Ranges of Compensation for City Lobbyists in Texas (Sampling)*

2014

City

Projected Range of Compensation of Lobbyists Registered to Represent City

Austin

Up to $575,000 - $1,050,000

Fort Worth

Up to $225,000 - $445,000

Houston

Up to $345,000 - $420,000

Irving

Up to $215,000 - $340,000

San Antonio

Up to $145,000 - $280,000

*This chart reflects projected compensation amounts to lobbyists hired by only the five cities with the most outside lobbyists per commission filings in 2014.

Source: Texas Ethics Commission, 2014 Lobby List with Concerns (Employers and Clients), Jan. 9, 2015 (Feb. 6, 2015)

Our ruling

Claunch said: "Austin has more lobbyists working for it than any other municipality in Texas."

In 2014, indeed, Austin had more lobbyists (22) representing its interests before state government than any other Texas city and also was expected to spend more on such lobbyists than a few other cities identified as clients by multiple lobbyists.

But lobbyist filings with the state don’t reveal how much time any lobbyist puts in for a particular client. It's possible, for instance, that some lobbyists who registered for Austin worked for firms hired by the city but didn’t personally put in time on its behalf.

We rate this statement, which has a tinge of uncertainty, Mostly True.


MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

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