Under GOP, Small Towns Forced to Retain High-Priced Lobbyists

Congressional Republicans have quite the racket going, the details of which have become even more apparent this weekend.

On Friday we learned from the Associated Press that House Appropriations chair Jerry Lewis, a Republican from the Inland Empire in Southern California, had sent sent a letter to San Bernardino County (which is in his district) recommending it hire a particular lobbyist, Tom Skancke. A cursory examination of campaign finance filings from PoliticalMoneyLine shows that Skancke has given Lewis close to $4,000 in campaign contributions in recent years, including,

Given that Republican Congressmen at the highest level are strongly suggesting to local governments to retain expensive lobbyists, it should come as no surprise that the number of localities doing this is going through the roof, as Jodi Rudoren and Aron Pilhofer report in today's issue of The New York Times.

Since 1998, the number of public entities hiring private firms to represent them in Washington has nearly doubled to 1,421 from 763, as places like Treasure Island, population 7,514, have jumped onboard with behemoths like Miami that have long had lobbyists.

[...]

Enlisted almost exclusively to land earmarks, lobbyists for local governments have boomed alongside a broader explosion in such appropriations, to 12,852 items worth $64 billion last year from 4,219 pet projects totaling $27.7 billion in 1998. The prolific earmarking does not change the overall budget's bottom line, but how the pie is cut: dollars are doled out, often in secret, at the whim of a lone legislator -- often under the influence of a lobbyist -- rather than through a competitive process.

It is against the law to use federal money to hire lobbyists. Yet local officials' near-unanimous justification is that the lobbyists pay for themselves many times over through the infusion of federal funds.

Local governments should not be shaken down by high-priced lobbyists in order to get federal dollars. If a locality is truly in need of federal assistance -- perhaps for a much-needed bridge repair or fix to water treatment plant -- their Congressman should go to bat for them, not tell them to retain a Beltway lobbyist.

But when the practice of hiring lobbying firms in order to get unnecessary pork from the federal government becomes institutionalized, as it has under Lewis and the rest of the Republican Congress, the expense to the American taxpayer goes through the roof. This is the cost of corruption. This is the cost of the Republican Congress.

Tags: culture of corruption, lobbying, Republicans (all tags)

Comments

9 Comments

The Neo-Feudal Agenda--Another Example

I am constantly amazed (not!) at how prescient the cyberpunk authors of the early 80s were in writing about a neo-feudal future.  Of course, part of this reflected the earlier work of pioneers such as Philip K. Dick whose Solar Lottery was first published all the way back in 1955.

But I digress.

The point is, having local vassals (mayors and such) dependent on distant, higher vassals (consultants) whose allegiances are distinctly not to the local public good is a perfectly typical feudal, pre-democratic, pre-Enlightenment arrangement.  This is yet another facet of the real culture war we are engaged in.  It is not Western Civ versus the world.  It is not red states vs. blue.  It is pre-modern vs. modern and post-modern.  Bush/bin Laden are on one side, and the Constitution/rule of law/John Locke/American people are on the other.  Whether the latter know it or not.  It's our job to enlighten them.  This is just one more piece of the puzzle.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-07-02 12:50PM | 0 recs
You've quadruple-checked that no Dem MCs do this?

Earmarks, as with Federal appropriations generally, are a radically corrupt process which no sane deviser of constitutions (let alone the Founding Fathers) could endorse.

The whole thing stinks.

However - them's the rules. And the corruption is (making due allowance for majority status) thoroughly bipartisan.

Perhaps, as with a number of aspects of Congressional government, the GOP are just better at it than today's Dems.

When you say

when the practice of hiring lobbying firms in order to get unnecessary pork from the federal government becomes institutionalized, as it has under Lewis and the rest of the Republican Congress

seem to me that you're asking for credit for Dem MCs for being less efficient whores! A system of corruption is fine and dandy so long as it betrays the amateurism on display whenever La Pelosi graces the talk show studios...

Moreover, I can see no sign of any willingness by Dems - in, for example, the New Direction document - to tackle this cesspool if they win control of the 110th. Perhaps putting a smidgeon of lipstick on the pig, as with those ethics reform bills that disappeared without trace.

Nothing worthwhile.

Because, let's face it, the Dems need the bucks, to pay for TV spots, mostly. (Especially under the current regime of 15 percenter media consultants.)

In fact, earmarks may be a cost-effective way of buying votes with Uncle Sam's dollar, since they get spread around. The much larger lumps of spending on defense contracts, say, are, I think you'll find, a much worse deal from the taxpayer's viewpoint in terms of dollars of expenditure per dollar of campaign contributions received.

And what about this from Rudoren:

Large governments like Miami-Dade -- along with ports, airports and public utilities -- have long had people in Washington looking out for their interests. What has changed in the past few years is the number of smaller entities looking to get in on the action.

This outbreak of lobbying activity is having the effect of spreading the wealth!

Dems have got to be loving that, surely?

And - just a thought: if the House Dems are going to make a thing about this Lewis letter, let's hope they've planned defense in depth for Mollohan blowback. He's #6 in seniority on the Dem side of the committee...

[Durable link for the Times piece.]

by skeptic06 2006-07-02 02:01PM | 0 recs
Re:

You make insinuations about the Democrats but offer no proof whatsoever that any Democratic member of Congress -- let alone the highest ranking member of the Appropriations Committee -- told a local government within his district to hire a lobbyist who had funnelled money into his campaign coffers. That's a whole heck of a lot different than anything a Democrat has been shown to do in recent years.

by Jonathan Singer 2006-07-02 02:13PM | 0 recs
We're talking politics here...

You make insinuations about the Democrats but offer no proof whatsoever that any Democratic member of Congress -- let alone the highest ranking member of the Appropriations Committee -- told a local government within his district to hire a lobbyist who had funnelled money into his campaign coffers.

What?

I'm very careful not to accuse anyone of anything - for the very good reason that I have no evidence that anyone on Appropriations has done anything in breach of the rules or any conception of proper conduct.

I'm certainly not - and did not - assert anything about Obey of WI, about whom I've seen nothing suggesting such a breach.

My concern here is a political one. (This is a political blog, after all - proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not the standard; Jefferson was ousted from Ways & Means without anything like such a degree of proof, after all.)

The general opinion of voters, I believe, is that both sides are significantly involved in misfeasance, legal or illegal. They are bound to be instinctively incredulous, therefore, about Dem claims that GOP misfeasance is different in kind, rather than degree, from their own.

If the Dems, as they seem to be, are intent on making a Federal case of the GOP culture of corruption, they had better have a jolly convincing argument that it's not the pot calling the kettle black.

That's all I'm saying.

Appropriations is a souk. Smaller local government units are bound to be at a disadvantage compared with the Big Names in bidding for favors, but an increasingly savvy electorate is aware of the moolah that is spread around, and might ask even the most insignificant of units what they've done to divert some of it their way.

(Quite likely, the residents of such units have got wised up at sites like this one, and are wanting to crash the gates of their sleepy little local oligarchy.)

I'd suspect that a number of Dem MCs have sent out letters that, in the hands of the GOP fantasy-makers, can be spun into recommendations to use lobbyists from which said MCs have received contributions.

I don't know so. But the responsibility for checking should surely be on the Dem operatives who recommend taking up the issue. Shouldn't it?

Let's think of a likely scenario: a county (let's say, Podunk) asks its rep to help secure Federal funding for a bridge that it needs to replace. The rep says he'll do his best, but really Podunk needs a lobbyist on their side, and that Smith & Krudnik are good at their business.

Let's say Smith & Krudnik have given to the rep (amongst several dozen others).

Let's further say that the bridge doesn't quite make it. And the good burghers of Podunk are miffed to a degree.

What if that letter that the rep sent came out? And let's suppose he's a Dem rep on the House Appropriations Committee.

I don't say there is such a rep. Or such a county. Or such a bridge.

But - Jesus! - we're talking politics here! We know from the Swift Boat incident what the GOP is capable of.

I really worry here that the Dems, in majoring on the Lewis letter (if they do), would be failing to play good D. Or any D.

by skeptic06 2006-07-03 06:27AM | 0 recs
Re: We're talking politics here...

I'd suspect that a number of Dem MCs have sent out letters that, in the hands of the GOP fantasy-makers, can be spun into recommendations to use lobbyists from which said MCs have received contributions.

I don't know so. But the responsibility for checking should surely be on the Dem operatives who recommend taking up the issue. Shouldn't it?

No. It is impossible to prove that no Democrat ever sent out such a letter, but that does not mean that Lewis should be let off the hook as a result.

by Jonathan Singer 2006-07-03 06:42AM | 0 recs
Re: We're talking politics here...

It is impossible to prove that no Democrat ever sent out such a letter, but that does not mean that Lewis should be let off the hook as a result.

The point of this exercise is to secure not the enforcement of Congressional ethics rules but the control of the 110th Congress for the Dems.

If dragging Lewis over the coals for his - let's be generous - ethical shortcomings aids the Dems in achieving such control, then by all means let the dragging begin.

My concern is that, in so doing, the Dems would be leading with their chin.

Quick question: did you know six months ago that Mollohan was vulnerable to accusations of impropriety? If not, how vehemently would you have denied any such accusations back then?

by skeptic06 2006-07-03 07:30AM | 0 recs
What's more...

It's not incumbent upon me to prove that no Democrat ever wrote such a letter. It is impossible to prove such a negative. Just because I can't prove something is not untrue doesn't mean that is is in fact true.

The fact of the matter is that Jerry Lewis wrote a letter to San Bernardino County recommending they hire a lobbyist who happened to make significant campaign contributions to his campaign. No Democrat is alleged to have undertaken such action. Period.

by Jonathan Singer 2006-07-02 02:16PM | 0 recs
This is not a criminal trial!

As I said in my reply to your first response, this is a political, not a legal, question.

We know what the Swifties did with Kerry's VN record, as a result of which he had several citations for bravery to wave.

If you think that the Dems can rest easy until the GOP have proof beyond a reasonable doubt of Dem misfeasance in relation to appropriations, then - that scarcely mirrors our experience with the GOP, does it?

The reasons why culture of corruption is such a bad line to major on for the Dems are that, one, it goes against the general perception of the American electorate, that both sides are the same, in intention, if not in execution; and, two, it opens up such a wide field for a GOP counter-attack.

Tracking back, a broader picture might be of the Dems lacking radical policy proposals in their distinctive fields (education, health, welfare, labor rights) and looking for a gaudy campaign topic (viz, the culture of corruption) with which to distract attention from those deficiencies.

Look at New Direction and the truly pitiful proposals under the rubric of healthcare: what's the point of the Dems if they can't propose universal health care in a document for a Congress in which they know they'll be vetoed to buggery on any strikingly Dem legislative proposal they make?

by skeptic06 2006-07-03 06:42AM | 0 recs
another classic

Billings Gazette:

Desolate Carter County is where the blacktop ends. Literally.

About 20 miles south of the county seat of Ekalaka, Highway 323 - the north-south route that connects Ekalaka with Alzada - becomes a gravel road. On a wet day, it's gumbo and usually impassable.

After trying for almost half a century to get federal money to pave the road, Carter County two years ago joined a growing number of state and local government entities in Montana and hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist. Since then, the county has spent $92,250 in public and private money on lobbying for the road project.

The investment seems to be paying off. Congress gave more than $8 million for the project in 2003 and allocated $9.6 million more this year, a total of more than $13,000 for every one of the county's 1,324 residents.

Where did the money go and why?

Part of that money went to hire the lobbyist whom Carter County hired: Kevin Ring, a former associate of Abramoff who cited his right not to incriminate himself when he declined to answer any questions this summer at a U.S. Senate hearing looking into lobbying fraud. [...]

Records show that Ring, Carter County's lobbyist, donated $2,000 to Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., in 2002 and 2003 and $1,000 to Burns. He gave no money to Baucus.

It was Rehberg who advised the Carter County Commission to hire Ring.

"Rehberg suggested this man because he knew him," Courtney said.

Erik Iverson, Rehberg's chief of staff, said Ring's donations had nothing to do with the congressman's endorsement. Rehberg early on made paving the road a priority, he said. The commissioners asked Rehberg point-blank whether a lobbyist would help them get money to pave the highway.

"They asked, 'Should we hire a lobbyist? Give us a suggestion,' " Iverson said. "He recommended Kevin because they asked him. I can't think of anybody better. Now, little Carter County ended up with one of the top lobbyists in D.C."

The history:

Ring also is a former Capitol Hill staffer, once serving as the legislative director for Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif. Ring's association with Doolittle helped him win a much more lucrative Montana government account than humble Carter County's. Since 2000, Ring and his firm have received $570,000 in state money to lobby for the Dry Prairie Rural Water Authority, a $241 million federal drinking water project that will bring fresh water to 30,000 mostly rural residents across north-central Montana. Clint Jacobs, manager of the Dry Prairie authority, said Ring's history with Doolittle was his main selling point.

"Kevin Ring was the only former staffer for Rep. Doolittle who was a lobbyist, so that was the reason we selected him," Jacobs said.

What did the cash buy?

Doolittle chaired the House Subcommittee on Water and Power, which along with a similar Senate committee had the sole power to authorize any new water projects in the country. Without congressional authorization, the water project couldn't go anywhere.

At the time, Doolittle was holding up all water project authorizations, said John Tubbs, chief of Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation's Resource Development Bureau.

"(Ring's) first project was Dry Prairie," said Tubbs, who also oversees the money for the state's regional water program.

Shaking down local government for DC lobbyists -- your GOP Culture of Corruption in action!

by Bob Brigham 2006-07-02 03:17PM | 0 recs

Diaries

Advertise Blogads