20 states give public pensions to lobbyists

first_img ALBANY, N.Y. — As a lobbyist in New York’s statehouse, Stephen Acquario is doing pretty well. He pulls down $204,000 a year, more than the governor makes; gets a Ford Explorer as his company car; and is afforded another special perk:Even though he’s not a government employee, he is entitled to a full state pension.He’s among hundreds of lobbyists in at least 20 states who get public pensions because they represent associations of counties, cities and school boards, an Associated Press review found. Legislatures granted them access decades ago on the premise that they serve governments and the public. In many cases, such access also includes state health care benefits.But several states have started to question whether these organizations should qualify for such benefits, since they are private entities in most respects: They face no public oversight of their activities, can pay their top executives private-sector salaries and sometimes lobby for positions in conflict with taxpayers’. New Jersey and Illinois are among the states considering legislation that would end their inclusion.“It’s a question of, ‘Why are we providing government pensions to these private organizations?’” said Illinois Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz.Acquario, executive director and general counsel of the New York State Association of Counties, argues that his group gives local government a voice in the statehouse, and the perk of a state pension makes it easier to hire people with government expertise.“We want the people that work in local governments to continue to be part of the solution,” he said. “We represent the same taxpayers.” 20 states allow some private lobbyists to receive public pensions. At a time when many states struggle to meet their legal obligations to fund pensions, legislators are asking why employees whose hiring and salaries are not controlled by government agencies should receive the benefit. Advocates argue that the pension is limited to those lobbyists who represent the interests of cities, counties, school boards and the like.last_img read more