By Greg Campbell, FACE THE STATE
Colorado Springs utilities customers soon will be getting a little something extra for the rates they pay for electricity and gas, although it’s probably not something they would expect—their very own Washington, D.C. lobbyist.
City-owned Colorado Springs Utilities is one of 10 public and private organizations that will chip in $10,000 to have the Springs’ interests represented in the nation’s capital. Other partners in the venture include the local chamber of commerce, the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, Ent Federal Credit Union and El Paso County.
Scott Bryan, the outgoing chairman of the EDC told the Colorado Springs Gazette that the city needs its own hired gun on Capitol Hill so that it doesn’t get left out of the running when lucrative federal contracts are awarded.
“We need somebody actively pursuing those dollars and who has the inside track on how to obtain some of those dollars,” he told the paper.
Not everyone is convinced the plan is a good idea, especially when it comes to spending public money on lobbying for more public money. Sean Paige, a City Council member who also serves on the utility board along with his council colleagues, aired his concerns on his blog, Local Liberty Online.
“I’m not sure how much ‘pull’ $100,000 buys you in Washington these days, or exactly what booty they’re hoping to bring home, but you can bet that the K Street kleptos will be happy to take the money,” he wrote in a Sept. 26 post. “They’re probably eying the Colorado Springs contingent the way a pack of famished wolves eyes the lost lamb.”
If that sounds like rare candor from a sitting politician, consider the source. Paige is the Gazette’s former editorial page editor where, according to his official biography on the Colorado Springs website, he “vigorously championed the paper’s libertarian editorial philosophy.” He’s also the former spokesman for a taxpayer advocacy group, Citizens Against Government Waste, so wondering out loud about public expenditures like $10,000 for a lobbyist is right up his alley.
“The use of public funds makes CSU—its board and ratepayers—partners in this venture, whether I like it or not,” Paige wrote. “I assume this means that we on the board will get a regular, detailed briefing on exactly what ‘our’ Washington lobbyists are doing with these funds. I think we also ought to get a look at the contract under which ‘our’ lobbyists will operate, and to be informed, specifically, on what they’ll be lobbying for. I’ll be interested, as a member of the board, in keeping close tabs on what fruits flow from these labors.”
True to his post, Paige made those expectations clear at last week’s utilities board meeting, and he also cautioned against lobbying for wasteful earmarks.
“I don’t think this is a prudent use of money, but as one member on the board, I don’t think I can stop them at this point,” he told Face the State. “The best I can do, at least for now, is exercise oversight and pay close attention to what they do with the money. It’s not a huge amount of money, but our utility company already spends a significant amount of money on legislative work in general and I’m not sure really how this fits in.
“I also made it clear that I do not want this money used to chase earmarks,” he said. “While I didn’t get clear assurances on that, I think I made it very clear that I will be very unhappy if I discover that any of this money is going to chase earmarks. … I think it’s an issue we have to tackle at the supply as well as the demand side, meaning we in the hinterlands have to stop asking Washington for stuff if we want it to stop picking our pockets to pay for that stuff.”
Now there’s a unique lobbying agenda.