25 Mar 2008

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

In this interesting bit on sausage making, we see how local governments hire lobbyists to get federal pork:
San Joaquin County has a full-time lobbyist for which it pays $85,000, and the county also approved funding $11,617 for sending another delegation of officials back to Washington D.C. for the annual One Voice lobbying trip.

The county will pay The Ferguson Group, based in Washington, D.C., up to $50,000 to seek federal funds to improve Delta levees for flood-control purposes and to build a dam to divert Mokelumne River water to replenish the groundwater basin.

"These are both really urgent things," county Public Works Director Tom Flinn said. "We're learning that we need better contacts, particularly with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation."

"We need someone to work through the gears of the federal government," Flinn said. "How do you advance this project? You need some people in Washington who know the innards."


Bob Stern, director of the Center for Governmental Studies, questioned why a lobbyist is necessary.

"Why would a local government agency hire a private lobbyist to lobby another government agency?" Stern asked. "Why can't they go through their congressman for free? It's really sad."

Deputy County Administrator Elena Reyes points to the county's main lobbying firm, Fleischman-Hilliard Government Relations, which helped the county get $500,000 for the new county agriculture center that is under construction in Stockton. That's a lot more than the approximately $85,000 the county pays Fleischman-Hilliard annually, Reyes said.

The county needed to hire a specialist to negotiate for money for the Mokelumne River and flood-control projects, Reyes said, because the firm was spread thin lobbying for other county projects such as the county jail expansion, community development, health care, economic development, libraries and emergency services.

Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said that lobbyists have been effective in acquiring federal funds for local cities, counties and other agencies, but taxpayers should watch carefully to make sure the county is getting its money's worth.
This is an amazing story.
  • One part of the government is lobbying another part of the government to get its "fair share" of federal pork.
  • Money will be spent on local projects of no federal significance.
  • They are using outside contractors instead of congressional staffers.
  • They need to hire a specialist in addition to their normal lobbyist who is spread too thin.
  • An anti-tax organization is all in favor "as long as they get their money's worth."
Are you kidding me? Has anyone here heard about collective action problems, i.e., the few will exploit the many because gains are divided among few (think sugar or corn lobby) and the costs are divided among many (taxpayers). The irony is that when everyone goes to Washington to "get their fair share," everyone pays that cost PLUS the cost of Washington and the lobbyists.

Bottom Line: Government is and has always been a source of concentrated power and money. The more it has, the worse the fighting over the division of spoils. We need some serious Tenth Amendment action here: If local projects only used local money, lower federal taxes would mean more local money. Even better, we would have fewer dumb projects and a smaller lobbying machine in Washington.

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