With Congressional Republicans and the president vowing an end to earmarks and pressure being exerted on the Congressional Democratic leadership to fall in line, many are lauding earmark reform as a fiscally responsible good governance measure.
It’s debatable how much money will actually be saved in the national budget.
What isn’t debatable is how much money your small business, favorite non-profit, or even your local city are going to save in eliminating unnecessary lobbying costs now that the earmark faucet is slowing to a trickle.
Too many spend ludicrous amounts of money hiring lobbyists with the hope that this funding will translate into earmark gold. “These earmarks are strategic for us; they are small but make a big difference,” Jeff Fleischer, CEO of the Youth Advocate program told a Pennsylvania reporter when asked what he thought of incoming Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey's earmark ban.
The Texas Tribune just recently discovered that Texas municipalities have spent over 17 million in lobbying money -- an amount which likely includes many earmarks.
When I was working on Capitol Hill during the height of earmarks, hundreds of lobbyists who were collectively being paid with millions of dollars would come in requesting money for their clients. -- Each of these lobbyists was paid royally for a request that only a handful would ever receive. What was an unwise expenditure then, would be like burning money in this current anti-earmark climate.
Even when earmarks flourished, no entity should ever have hired a lobbyist for such a simplistic and long-shot approach. It is your member of Congress who is the most likely champion for an earmark. Just on the face of it, the idea that you would pay someone to speak to your member of Congress was always a waste of money. -- “No Texan needs to hire a lobbyist to talk to me or my staff," said Republican Senator John Cornyn when asked about the Tribune report on municipal lobbying.
Numerous Congressional staffers have expressed similar frustration to me over the years as struggling small businesses, non-profits, or cities in their district would allocate at least $100,000 a year to employ lobbyists they never needed in the first place to work on a project they likely wouldn’t receive any money for.
Those institutions which did receive the occasional earmark would have spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on advocacy costs often just breaking even.
Earmark moratoriums will save money by forcing many to finally eliminate wasteful contracts for lobbyists who can no longer promise what it is so obvious they can’t deliver.
Despite this one group of lobbyists recently formed a diverse coalition to work on saving earmarks.
Another lobbyist took to this past weekend’s Washington Post opinion page to defend the earmark process with a range of arguments including a bizarre Constitutional plea. Arguing for the power of the purse, this lobbyist pleaded that “constitutionalists of all persuasions should support the retention of earmarks.”
Lobbyists are waking up and suddenly realizing what a blow to their business model this change will be and now they are fighting back.
Some may even be hoping you continue to waste money employing them for a now nearly impossible service. But who in their right mind would?
The revered lobbying earmark sales pitch--a clear return on investment--is now revealed to be a farce. It's not easy to be realistic with a client and tell them their issue may take 3-5 years while costing a monthly retainer of $10,000 or more. Instead, these lobbyists wanted to convince their clients that if they invested a certain amount in their services they would receive double that amount when the earmark was allocated.
With Republicans and the president united on earmark reform, the clear return is now murky while this lobbying service is an obvious waste of money.
Examples are now popping up in our nation’s newspapers depicting some “golden age” of earmarks which includes The New York Times highlighting the earmark success of St. Louis and the Washington Post highlighting the earmark success of Louisville.
Lost in those unique examples are the majority of earmark requesters who would receive nothing. Take the city of Surprise, Arizona as an example. The city didn’t receive a desired earmark last year and for the first time in years isn’t hiring a federal lobbyist due in part to the earmark ban. That sounds like savings to me.
Who knows exactly what ramifications an earmark ban will have on our larger fiscal crisis but what is clear is how much money will immediately be saved through the elimination of lobbyists who can no longer promise their clients a magic pot of money.
The slow death of earmarks saves our nation by ending costly lobbying relationships, which was always perceived as a waste of money to those inside the Beltway and is now apparent to the rest of the country.
Maury Litwack is a lobbyist, former Hill staffer, advocacy opinion writer, and founder of the Capitol Plan – A Comprehensive Washington Advocacy Strategy.