The pro-earmark fantasy argument

Maury Litwack Contributor
Font Size:

Despite the fact that the Republican caucus has sworn off earmarks, the Senate failed this week to receive the necessary 2/3 majority for a legislative ban on earmarks. A silly narrative emerged prior to this vote warning cities of all shapes and sizes that they would suffer colossal funding losses if earmark reform was enacted. Lacking in this analysis were basic facts that everyone should know.

The facts are that, yes, a city or county may have received a beneficial earmark, but many didn’t, while nearly every municipality that pursed an earmark did so by spending taxpayer dollars on lobbyists.

Something doesn’t come from nothing. In order for municipalities to receive an earmark, they needed to pay for a lobbyist. How much did your city or county invest in a lobbyist in order to see a return? A USA Today story looks at a slew of examples of money which could be lost to your city or county if earmark reform is enacted. But what about the money already wasted? The Center for Responsive Politics found that in 2009 local, state and territorial governments spent over $83.5 million on lobbyists. Even more startlingly, five state and local governments managed to collectively spend nearly two million dollars in the first three months of this year on lobbying. Of course, the media would have a better pro-earmark argument to make if these governments had traveled to Washington on their own and made their own case to their elected officials — a free activity. Instead the lobbyist waste is completely ignored by the media.

What about the sad individual stories? For example, the USA Today story mentioned the city of Gonzales, LA, and its desire for $250,000 in park upgrades. The city spent over $100,000 on lobbying costs in 2009 and 2010 to, among other things, go after earmarks.

Mississippi, which brags about its status as the number one earmark recipient, received $141.91 in earmarks per capita last year. But what about the poor states that didn’t receive their share of earmarks? Kentucky (4th poorest) received $53.54 per capita, Alabama (5th poorest) received $54.84 per capita, and Oklahoma (6th poorest) received a measly $21.76 per capita. Where’s the equity?

Critics of an earmark ban love to bring up a myriad of facts showing that a ban won’t affect our budget deficit. But they seem to have jumped the shark on this municipal argument, which is only compelling sans the actual facts.

Maury Litwack is a lobbyist, former Hill staffer and author of the recently published The Capitol Plan – A Comprehensive Washington Advocacy Strategy.