Financial District: The Influence Business
“That process has become a runaway train of expectations and perceived entitlements, experts say, as lobbyists go hat in hand to individual members of Congress, assuming that the member will have little or no trouble delivering on the desired project,” says the report
The report says that among lobbyists working to influence the shape of the new bill are the following:
At least two dozen individuals with experience as either House Transportation Committee staff or as personal staff to Transportation Committee members;
More than a dozen individuals with experience on one of the three Senate committees working on transportation policy or as personal staff to committee members;
At least three dozen former House and Senate staffers with experience working on appropriations committees or as aides for members who served on those committees;
Former presidential appointees to various positions in the Department of Transportation, including former Secretary James Burnley;
At least 20 former members of Congress, including one-time House Transportation Committee members Robert Borski, William Lipinski, and Bill Brewster.
The road lobbyists have not gone unchallenged, however. Rail advocates have their own coalitions — most recently OneRail, which includes six organizations with an impressive array of 55 lobbyists on the payroll, says the report.
The Center doesn’t take sides, nor does it condemn the lobbying process outright. The report’s major criticism is that the entire system, including the lobbyists, is not a cohesive one that identifies and pursues a national goal, rather that it creates a series of projects that may or not efficiently benefit the nation. The report argues that the distribution of money from the Highway Trust Fund fails to occur as part of a nationally identified plan of need. The money goes to jobs both urgently needed or barely needed at all and everything in between based, if we believe the report, on whim and political expediency as much as identified need.
“As in past years”, the report says, “the law that emerges this time is at risk of being cobbled together from individual and too often competing interests — states want one thing, cities another, highway backers want this, transit advocates that. Additionally, members of Congress submit their own projects based on knowledge of their own district. Very few projects are mandated as nationally important. Those that are often shouldn’t be. The system, say those closest to it, isn’t much of a system at all.
“On its best days, the federal transportation system serves as the backbone of America’s economy. On its worst days — and there have been plenty of those recently — the system pumps massive sums of money into disjointed, low-priority, and often ill-defined projects.”
The report points out how and from where federal money is actually doled out is among the biggest headaches. “The majority of federal dollars for these various transportation programs actually gets distributed to state and local governments to be spent at their discretion. But that has caused problems. For one thing, wrote the Government Accountability Office last year, ‘Rigorous economic analysis does not generally drive the investment decisions of state and local governments.’ That was an understatement. Most state transportation agencies surveyed by the GAO in 2004 — 34 out of 43 — called political support and public opinion ‘very important’ when investing federal dollars. Only eight states attributed the same importance to cost-benefit analyses.”
The report is available on the Center’s Website, www.publicintegrity.com, and features an interactive map tracking exactly who has hired lobbyists nationwide, including cities, counties, planning agencies, universities, real estate firms and construction companies.
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