Stimulus lobbying pays off for major contractors

By Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest

Last spring, when the ink was barely dry on the $787 billionAmerican Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), there was alreadyconcern about an emerging frenzy of lobbying on behalf of corporationsseeking 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 releaseof the first round of quarterly disclosure reports by ARRA recipients.In part, these reports serve as a score card showing which companieswon 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 maintainedby the Center for Responsive Politics. Many of the largest contractswent to joint ventures set up by major engineering companies to doclean-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 the50 largest ARRA contracts. Of these, 34 show up as clients in theCenter's lobbying database. These include large corporations such asBechtel, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Motors and Ford--aswell as smaller players. Also on the list are educational institutionssuch as the University of California, Stanford University and theUniversity of Chicago.

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

Moreover, there is every reason to think that a significant portionof their lobbying efforts were focused on stimulus contracts. Isearched the databaseof lobbyist disclosure reports provided by the Senate Office of PublicRecords. Of those 34 contractors, 24 show up as clients in 2009lobbying reports in which the word "recovery" or "stimulus" ismentioned in the description of the specific issues on which thelobbyists reported working.

It's not possible to determine how much of their spending wentspecifically to ARRA issues. But whatever portion of the $65 millionwas involved, it was money well spent for the contractors. The 24 thatdefinitely had lobbyists working on ARRA matters ended up with stimuluscontracts worth some $7.4 billion. That's an impressive return onpolitical investment.

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