Facing South

Stimulus lobbying pays off for major contractors

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By Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest

Last spring, when the ink was barely dry on the $787 billion
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), there was already
concern about an emerging frenzy of lobbying on behalf of corporations
seeking a slice of the stimulus pie.

The Obama Administration enacted rules designed to make ARRA lobbying more transparent. That didn't work out very well, but the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board recently completed the release
of the first round of quarterly disclosure reports by ARRA recipients.
In part, these reports serve as a score card showing which companies
won the great stimulus lobbying competition.

Beginning with a list of the largest direct federal contracts, I ran the names of the prime contractors through the invaluable lobbying database maintained
by the Center for Responsive Politics. Many of the largest contracts
went to joint ventures set up by major engineering companies to do
clean-up work at nuclear facilities owned by the Department of Energy.
In those cases I searched the names of the individual parent companies
(and some universities) involved.

There are a total of 52 companies and institutions involved with the
50 largest ARRA contracts. Of these, 34 show up as clients in the
Center's lobbying database. These include large corporations such as
Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Motors and Ford--as
well as smaller players. Also on the list are educational institutions
such as the University of California, Stanford University and the
University of Chicago.

So far in 2009, the 34 have spent a total of $65 million on lobbying
the federal government. Of course, not all that lobbying can be
attributed to the quest for stimulus contracts, but it shows in general
terms that the ARRA winners include some of the biggest
influence-peddlers in Washington.

Moreover, there is every reason to think that a significant portion
of their lobbying efforts were focused on stimulus contracts. I
searched the database
of lobbyist disclosure reports provided by the Senate Office of Public
Records. Of those 34 contractors, 24 show up as clients in 2009
lobbying reports in which the word "recovery" or "stimulus" is
mentioned in the description of the specific issues on which the
lobbyists reported working.

It's not possible to determine how much of their spending went
specifically to ARRA issues. But whatever portion of the $65 million
was involved, it was money well spent for the contractors. The 24 that
definitely had lobbyists working on ARRA matters ended up with stimulus
contracts worth some $7.4 billion. That's an impressive return on
political investment.

Now we can only hope that these and other stimulus contractors crank
up their hiring so taxpayers also get something significant out of this
bonanza. According to the recent ARRA recipient reports, some of the
projects being carried out by those two dozen firms have already
created (or retained) a substantial number of jobs. Yet others, in a pattern
seen in the overall ARRA contractor data, report few or no jobs despite
having already received substantial sums for the projects.

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