The influence of Washington’s K Street, home to the offices of D.C.’s most prominent lobbyists, can be seen on Main Streets from Sumner, Washington to Simsbury, Connecticut. From filling potholes to installing water treatment facilities, lobbyists have a growing influence on how cities, counties and states secure funding for infrastructural needs. Unfortunately, with the continuing demonizing of the earmarking process, securing such a provision has become increasingly controversial.
Expected to fail Senate approval, a recent GOP plan to scrap the earmarking process has gained reputation as an election year stunt. Republicans such as Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a keen opponent of earmarking, are hoping this proposal will bring light to a process which fosters wasteful spending. However, faced with certain dissent from across the aisle, Republicans will not be convinced to unequivocally adopt such a measure. In a conversation with The Hill, Coburn warned, “You’ve not heard the end of this, and the American public is with us on this.”
The characterization of earmarking as “waste” has acted as a catalyst to birth such perceptions of congressional “pet projects.” Meanwhile, this “waste” will produce, among many other things, a new 159th Street Bridge in Andover, Kansas and a new Wastewater Treatment Plant in Bullhead, Arizona.
The Office of Management and Budget defines an earmark as “funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to properly manage funds.”
A well known critic of earmarking, government watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, suggests that this bypass of executive oversight allows such high profile projects as nearly $1 million in earmarks “to manage noxious weeds in Idaho.” Still, many lobbyists argue that labeling every earmark as “waste,” because of a few bad apples, is irresponsible.
Providing constituents with the funding needed for local projects, often referred to as “bringing home the bacon,” acts as a valuable asset for politicians come reelection time. However, cities, counties and states often do not have the time or education to effectively speak on the behalf of local and under-funded projects. This inability to properly communicate with lawmakers, and relentlessly track legislation has enticed many local governments to hire lobbyist firms to do the hard work for them.
In a phone interview with Next American City, Florida-based lobbyist Grant Smith spoke of the dependence many local governments have on a lobbyist’s ability to secure congressional earmarks. “Most earmarks are for projects in the congressional representative’s district,” said Smith. “Professional lobbyists understand the process by which it gets done. And the lobbyist’s full time job is to advocate for and against legislation. Somebody needs to do this full time to get it done.”
It is no surprise then that in the first half of 2007, cities spent over $34 million lobbying the federal government, according to reports made available by the Senate Office of Public Records. Without these politically savvy advocates, city projects would be muddled and lost in the technicalities of legislative procedure, seemingly overlooked by the traditional federal allocation process.
It is frequently said that what is one man’s trash is another’s treasure. Similarly, it has been shown that what is deemed “waste” by one lawmaker, is a repaired road for another. Although occasionally misused, the earmarking process is in fact a necessary evil for the funding of infrastructural needs across this country.
-The New Argument