Lobbying leader: Embrace earmarks; ban would be 'foolish'

The head of the American League of Lobbyists is blasting the proposed earmark bans in Congress, saying lawmakers are letting down their constituents by not working to fund projects in their districts.

Dave Wenhold, the league’s president, said members of Congress would not be representing voters’ interests if they adopted the “foolish” proposal to ban earmarking.

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“A member of Congress should know what his district needs more than the executive branch. That’s what they get elected for,” said Wenhold, who is also a partner at Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies.

Wenhold said the earmarking system is already transparent and that lobbyists are happy to stand behind projects they have lobbied for.

“Members of Congress should be running towards earmarks. They are transparent. They put their name behind them,” Wenhold said. “Any good lobbyist doing earmark work would never be afraid of having sunlight being put on it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

House Republican leaders have lined up behind an earmark moratorium for next year. Since the GOP is taking control of the lower chamber, it is very likely the ban will apply to Democrats as well.

Momentum for an earmark ban is also building in the Senate. On Friday, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) became the latest GOP senator to back Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) proposal. If a majority of Republican senators vote to impose the earmark suspension, Democratic senators would be the only ones left earmarking on Capitol Hill next year.

The parochial projects have been under attack for several years as the exemplar of reckless Washington spending. This year, almost all Republican House members abstained from earmarking, while Democratic lawmakers only requested funds for non-profit organizations.


Banning the pet projects would also hit at one of K Street’s most profitable sectors: appropriations lobbying. Wenhold admits an earmark ban would hurt lobbying revenues but says voters would suffer more.

“It will definitely put a ding in the lobbying profession,” Wenhold said. “The real losers of this are going to be the members of Congress and their constituents.”

Wenhold argues that stopping earmarks would “stifle” innovation and invaluable services like medical research into cancer and other diseases. Universities and colleges would suffer, along with non-profit organizations, and the loss of funding could lead to layoffs.

The lobbyist also makes the argument that lawmakers would not be cutting spending by giving up earmarks, since federal agencies would simply decide on their own how to allocate government funds.
In addition, Wenhold said lawmakers should take a step back before they commit to a wholesale ban on earmarks. He recommends taking a looking at the work done by a reform coalition that he is part of, which includes watchdog groups as well as lobbyists. Some of their suggestions include limiting campaign contributions from those who benefit from earmarks and banning congressional aides from attending campaign fundraisers.

“If we can come together and talk about reform, why can't members of Congress?” Wenhold said.