Let me introduce you to Stephen Acquario. He’s a lobbyist who spends much of his time in New York’s State House. He is the executive director and counsel of the New York State Association of Counties. He earns $204,000 a year—more than the governor of New York. He also gets to drive around in a Ford Explorer, his company car. And even though Acquario is NOT a government employee, he IS entitled to a full public pension.
According to a recent review by the Associated Press, Acquario is one of hundreds of lobbyists working in a number of states who qualify for public pensions “because they represent associations of counties, cities and school boards.” The Associated Press reported that state legislatures had “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.”
Mark Karlin, editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout, wrote a commentary on the subject of lobbyists getting taxpayer funded pensions. In his commentary, Karlin said that during a period of austerity “when a key goal of those with means is to cut pensions that have been fairly earned by public employees, it is astonishing to read that some lobbyists in 40% of US states get paid pensions from the public trough.” He added, “Many of these non-governmental employees represent lobbying associations at the forefront of trying to reduce public pensions while ensuring that they keep their own, even though their salaries are not paid by any governmental body.” He said it was “preposterously hypocritical.” He added that it was “another scam wrapped in a lofty excuse”—pointing out that Acquario claims “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.”
The revolving door of incestuous government insiders turning around and becoming lobbyists — in this case working for a guy who makes more than senators and most governors — just won’t supply good enough personnel unless the taxpayers pay for private employee pensions, Acquario argues. Say what?”
Keith Brainard, research director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, said, “There is liability for taxpayers. Providing a pension benefit involves some amount of risk for the state and when you provide access to employees of entities that are not in control of the state.” As the AP reported, “Unlike state government, for example, these groups aren’t bound by salary restrictions — significant salary increases would result in increasing pension benefits.”
Michael Kink of the Strong Economy for All Coalition said, “It’s clear that there’s a big problem with hypocrisy when these lobbyists have been pushing austerity and benefit cuts for other government workers while they themselves enjoy solid state pensions. Do as I say, not as I do’ seems to be their approach on retirement cuts.” Kink added “Workers who have faced cuts in pay and pensioners have a right to be angry — as do voters.”
According to the AP report, these groups that lobby for states and counties take positions “that could conflict with taxpayer interests, such as advocating to weaken caps on property tax increases and boosting state school aid.”
For a large number of state lobbyists, a full state pension is part of the benefits package. Despite being employees of private organizations and drawing private salaries — sometimes in excess of any state employee’s — in at least 20 states, hundreds receive state-paid retirement benefits…
The states that have such provisions include Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington State.
Lobbyists getting State pensions (CBS Albany)
N.J. group funded by tax dollars also represents private interests (NorthJersey.com)
Questions over spending by NJ Counties Association (Trentonian/Associated Press)
Lobbyist got $99,000 state pension, then filed for unemployment, too (NorthJersey.com)
Top senator: Axe pensions for private lobbyists (Pennsylvania Independent)
How a reporter discovered lobbyists get state pensions (Associated Press)