Not only does Harrisburg share Washington’s spending problem, but both capitals are homestead to a multitude of rent-seeking lobbyists. As legislators recess for an extended two weeks, the rest of Pennsylvanians head back to work in order to survive in this dismal economy. An examination of accessible public information regarding the political culture of Harrisburg is in order. It may surprise the general public how extensively interest groups influence the political arena at the state level.
The Pennsylvania Department of State maintains reports on lobbying disclosure information. In their 2009-2010 biennial report, the department disclosed that a grand total of nearly $1 billion were spent in lobbying. To put this in perspective, the Pennsylvania coal industry produces $200 million annually. The size of the lobbying industry is more than double the size of the coal industry. More than $500 million alone were spent on direct communication between lobbyists and policymakers. Approximately $23 million were spent in the form of gifts, hospitality, transportation, and lodging for state officials, staff and their families. The Department of State’s list of lobbyists consists of 571 pages and more than 8,000 entries. It is important to acknowledge that some lobbyists represent non-profits and are not in the business of rent-seeking.
While the numbers surrounding lobbying may appear staggering, lobbyists have been very successful. The Pennsylvania government willingly hands out more than $750 million of taxpayer money in corporate welfare per year. This places Pennsylvania second in this state ranking category, behind only Ohio. As the government becomes entangled in business ventures, there are increased distortions in the market mechanisms of prices, profits, and losses. The convoluted tax code’s myriad of loopholes and exemptions merit strong incentives for the lobbying culture. The power hold of labor unions and big business across the state represent a large interest and are often at odds with taxpayers. It is not surprising that big government involvement in the economy yields such a large and undesirable rent-seeking industry.
The only way to protect taxpayers’ wallets and maintain constituent control over legislators is to rein in the size of government. Picking winners and losers in the economy through favorable appropriations or legislation should not be a function of government. Ending corporate welfare and introducing a more fair and simpler tax code is imperative to diminishing the influence of Harrisburg lobbyists. Limiting the role of government in the economy will undoubtedly allow for freer markets and a more prosperous Pennsylvania.