Say What? Lobbyists Are Getting Public Pensions in Some States

Seal_of_New_York_svgSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

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.”

Karlin continued:

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 can get public pensions in 20 states: Critics question whether system hurts taxpayers (Boston Globe/AP)

Where’s the Outrage? Some Lobbyists Get Taxpayer Funded Pensions in 20 States (Truth-Out)

Why Are Privately Employed Lobbyists Getting State-Funded Pensions? (

Lobbyists getting State pensions (CBS Albany)

State Pensions — A Loophole for Lobbyists (AARP)

N.J. group funded by tax dollars also represents private interests (

Questions over spending by NJ Counties Association (Trentonian/Associated Press)

Lobbyists Collecting New York State Pensions (WGRZ)

Private Lobbyists Earning Taxpayer Funded Pensions And Healthcare (Forbes)


Lobbyist got $99,000 state pension, then filed for unemployment, too (

Top senator: Axe pensions for private lobbyists (Pennsylvania Independent)

How a reporter discovered lobbyists get state pensions (Associated Press)

92 thoughts on “Say What? Lobbyists Are Getting Public Pensions in Some States”

  1. Elaine,
    I am late to the party, but a great article. I saw this news item before I left town and I was shocked. This is one “loophole” that I don’t think anyone politician would vote against now that the public is aware of it.

  2. Sqweaky,

    1) Connotation can indeed be passed off as subjective. That’s why propagandists use it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. “Plausible deniablity” requires plausibility. Your subsequent reaction to Elaine negates any chance you had at plausibility.

    2) Sloppy execution doesn’t merit bringing the A game. Your responses are well documented above for anyone to see.

    3) I admit that your work is weak, but the endorsement is an endorsement of one over the other, i.e. partisan.

    4) I’m well on record here as saying size isn’t the defining feature of government but rather that would be function. Size is irrelevant. Fascism is defined by function, not declarative form. And what OS said in quoting Hoffer.

    The pretend girl doth protest too much, methinks.

  3. Elaine,
    The “tea party” is not the first organization the Koch’s built. Their old man was a founder of the John Birch Society as well. For the Koch brothers, their driving force seems to be a combination of money, power and bigotry.

    You might like this quote by Eric Hoffer:

    To know a person’s religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance.

  4. Now that I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I can return to cutting and pasting once again.


    Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaire Koch Brothers
    Posted: 02/11/2013

    A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.

    Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving climate disruption.

    The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party’s anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.

    Published in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Tobacco Control, the study titled, ‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party, is not just an historical account of activities in a bygone era. As senior author, Stanton Glantz, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) professor of medicine, writes:

    “Nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party have longstanding ties to tobacco companies, and continue to advocate on behalf of the tobacco industry’s anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda.”

    The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now “supporting the tobacco companies’ political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws.” Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.

    In 1990, Tim Hyde, RJR Tobacco’s head of national field operations, in an eerily similar description of the Tea Party today, explained why groups like CSE were important to the tobacco industry’s fight against government regulation. Hyde wrote:

    “… coalition building should proceed along two tracks: a) a grassroots organizational and largely local track,; b) and a national, intellectual track within the DC-New York corridor. Ultimately, we are talking about a “movement,” a national effort to change the way people think about government’s (and big business) role in our lives. Any such effort requires an intellectual foundation – a set of theoretical and ideological arguments on its behalf.”

    The common public understanding of the origins of the Tea Party is that it is a popular grassroots uprising that began with anti-tax protests in 2009.

    However, the Quarterback study reveals that in 2002, the Kochs and tobacco-backed CSE designed and made public the first Tea Party Movement website under the web address

  5. @geneh:

    Oh, what the heck. I am up late working on my book, Mr. Lucky is a rerun, so I need a break from all that anyway.

    1. And people wonder why the Tea Party came into existence.” A statement which carries the connotation that the Tea Party is both necessary and good.

    Connotations are subjective things. I submit the statement says neither that the TP is necessary, nor good. Only, that it happened in response to being “fed up with gov’t.” By the same token, I also said that Occupy Wall Street came into existence because people were “fed up with Wall Street.” By your logic, that carries connotations that OWS is both necessary and good.

    Sooo, if by YOUR logic, I consider both the TP and OWS necessary and good, that makes me extremely NON partisan, now doesn’t it?

    2. See your assorted responses to Elaine above.

    What, you didn’t provide what it was that I said in response to Elaine above? That is awfully lazy for a Fearless Propaganda Fighter! Let me cut and paste my prior response, since you could not be troubled to analyze them and I guess just expect people to read your mind.

    “To that, I sarcastically agreed with you. But you kept going, like you were on automatic copy and paste mode, as you are often wont to do. My next two responses were basically, “Uh, Elaine, you’re in copy and paste mode and it isn’t necessary.”

    No, that doesn’t look too partisan and propaganda like to me.

    3. “I am also not much of a ‘joiner’ with any political or partisan group. I think both parties are full of idiots, and that the Republicans, by their nature, are just less harmful idiots and less dangerous to civilization, in general.”

    Well, now you are at least admitting it is a “weak” endorsement. I would suggest that it could be fairly read as so weak as to not constitute much of an endorsement. particularly when I see others at this site say the same thing “that both parties suck”, including, IIRC, YOU and your running lackey dog, OrneryScribble! (I didn’t want him to miss out on the fun!)

    4. Your assorted responses to Elaine where you describe government as big or over-powerful over and over; Tea Party doctrinaire dogma and part and parcel of the Koch campaign the privatize government services, etc.”

    First, I see no call for privatization there. Had you actually the Le Droit Signeur article I wrote a few years ago, you might have had a clue. Plus, read some of the NSA and Syria Attack threads here. Let’s see, YOU said, and I quote:

    “It’s perfectly obvious that Assad has attacked the President’s ego. Ergo thousands of people must die and billions of dollars wasted. Clinical narcissism is a job requirement for pols under our electoral systems. There is no harm greater to a narcissist than a bruised ego. Personal profit, saving face, whatever – you people need to get with the program that the military is the toy of the President and he can play with it any way he want so long as he buys more crap from Military-Industrial Complex. Obama ran across the memo The Chimp and The Penguin left in their desks on the way out the door.”

    Hmmm, sounds to me like YOU also think there is too much government.

    Sooo, all the above being said, it is clear that you made a cursory and superficial analysis of ME, failing even to read the above linked,

    Droit Du Seigneur – Cherry Popping On Wall Street

    or many other fine Squeekonomics articles I wrote. So I will stick with my original opinion. . . you tickled me.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

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