9/23/2009Lobbyists Battle for Handouts in Federal Transportation Bill
An army of 1800 transportation lobbyists spend $45 million for a slice of $500 billion in public money.
As Congress works on extending the authorization for transportation programs in the current session, thousands of lobbyists are investing millions in political donations and billable hours in the hopes of receiving a big payout in public dollars. The Center for Public Integrity, a left-wing watchdog group, last week released the results of an exhaustive examination of the financial ties between transportation lobbyists and lawmakers. In the first half of this year alone, 2100 lobbyists spent $45 million on influencing lawmakers who are busy dividing up an estimated $500 billion in funding (view lobbying map).
"Over the past two decades, this is the way federal transportation policy has largely been made in America -- by a quasi-private club of interest groups and local governments carving out something for everyone, creating a nationwide patchwork of funded bypasses, interchanges, bridges, and rail lines with no overarching philosophy behind it," Center staff writer Matthew Lewis explained.
Among the government entities involved, the Center found 475 cities, 160 counties and 12 states have sent lobbyists to Capitol Hill using public funds. Another 55 local development authorities, 95 transit agencies, 25 metro and regional planning organizations invested heavily in lobbying.
From the private sector, a total of 130 real estate, construction and engineering groups sent representatives to Washington, DC. Another group of 75 highway builders, trucking groups and automobile manufacturers sought business opportunities in the corridors of the US Capitol. A total of 140 universities, 45 rail organizations and 45 bicycle coalitions and research groups also sought handouts.
A revolving door between those who seek funds and those who hand out taxpayer money helps to ensure the lobbying process proceeds smoothly. For example, Sante Esposito spent eleven years as the chief Democratic counsel on the House Transportation Committee. Now as a lobbyist for the firm Federal Advocates she boasts of having secured $850 million in public funding for paying clients, which include five California cities, an engineering firm and the Association of Railroads.
In total, three dozen current lobbyists once served as House or Senate Transportation Committee staffers. Another three dozen worked with the appropriations committees. Twenty former members of Congress are now high-paid transportation lobbyists.
The Center disclosed that the Rockefeller Foundation provided funding for the project. This foundation also donates money to one of the largest special interest transportation coalitions, Transportation for America, whose goal is to take gas tax money away from projects that improve roads and instead push federal officials to pour the funds into rail projects.