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The Boom Market in Lobbying for Earmarks

- March 17, 2009

Lee Drutman sends along this graph and some questions to ponder:


He writes:

bq. I recently read Robert Kaiser’s new book So Damn Much Money, which is, in part, the story of Gerry Cassidy and the growth of earmarks lobbying. One of the many intriguing threads of the book, I thought, was the extent to which the earmark lobbying business is about constantly and aggressively signing up new clients.

bq. And there has, in fact, been a remarkable increase in the number of clients listing “federal budget and appropriations” on their lobbying disclosure forms over a ten-year period. The number has gone from 1,470 clients in 1998 to 4,748 in 2008 – a 223 percent increase, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

bq. However, this is much faster than the growth in the federal discretionary budget. Controlling for inflation, the federal discretionary budget has risen 56 percent, from $729 billion to $1.14 trillion over the same ten-year period (in 2008 dollars). Meanwhile, the money available for earmarks grew about 70 percent between 1998 and 2006 — from $17.4 billion to $31 billion (again in 2008 dollars), only to return to its initial 1998 levels (according to Citizens Against Government Waste).

bq. Of course, this is still a lot of money (so damn much, even). If the average appropriations client spends $100,000 a year on appropriations lobbying (a reasonable and perhaps even generous assumption, I think), that’s still only $475 million chasing $17 billion in earmarks, and $1.14 trillion in discretionary spending. Which is a pretty good ratio.

bq. But here is the question: Is this a reflection of more and more clients out there in the world getting wise to the giant pot of money the federal government has to offer by way of discretionary spending and earmarks? Or is this most a matter of lobbyists doing a good sales job in getting more clients interested in a somewhat limited pool of money?

bq. Or is this the marriage of both: savvy and enterprising lobbyists showing savvy and enterprising companies and institutions the way to the promised land of government largesse?

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