AP IMPACT: Lobbyists skirt Obama's earmark ban
One of the more oft-used items out of both the Democratic and the Republican bag of tricks is the "headline grabber", i.e. the splashy move that makes a lot of people take notice, but that isn't quite all it seems.
It works something like this:
1 - make a big, bold, public move or statement
2 - leave an "out" or a "loophole" in the minute details
3 - hope nobody notices
It's based in the notion that Americans often only read the headlines and either skim over or entirely ignore the details. With attention spans shorter than ever these days, it generally works.
However, there are still folks who examine the details.
Not exactly what I'd call greater transparency.
President Barack Obama's ban on earmarks in the $825 billion economic stimulus bill doesn't mean interest groups, lobbyists and lawmakers won't be able to funnel money to pet projects.
They're just working around it — and perhaps inadvertently making the process more secretive.
The projects run the gamut: a Metrolink station that needs building in Placentia, Calif.; a stretch of beach in Sandy Hook, N.J., that could really use some more sand; a water park in Miami.
There are thousands of projects like those that once would have been gotten money upfront but now are left to scramble for dollars at the back end of the process as "ready to go" jobs eligible for the stimulus plan.
The result, as The Associated Press learned in interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers, lobbyists and state and local officials, is a shadowy lobbying effort that may make it difficult to discern how hundreds of billions in federal money will be parceled out.
"'No earmarks' isn't a game-ender," said Peter Buffa, former mayor of Costa Mesa, Calif. "It just means there's a different way of going about making sure the funding is there."
Instead, the money will be doled out according to arcane formulas spelled out in the bill and in some cases based on the decisions of Obama administration officials, governors and state and local agencies that will choose the projects.
"Somebody's going to earmark it somewhere," said Howard Marlowe, a consultant for a coalition working to preserve beaches.
Lobbyists are hard at work figuring out ways to grab a share of the money for their clients, but the new rules mean they're doing so indirectly — and sometimes in ways that are impossible to track.
Edited by Mr Scot, 25 January 2009 - 03:57 PM.