Publication tries to beat K St. at its own game

Former lobbyists for town and city governments have launched a new publication that could help steer municipalities away from earmarks and Washington lobbyists.

Called FundBook, the free monthly publication lists federal grants and programs available to state and local governments. 

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Former lobbyists and consultants from Marlowe & Co., one of the top appropriations lobby shops in Washington, started the publication in 

October 2010 to help officials find funding without K Street’s help. 

“None of this is rocket science, but trying to organize all this information across all the federal agencies, it is surprisingly difficult,” James Alfano, one of FundBook’s co-founders, told The Hill. “We don’t hold a vendetta against lobbyists. But for most cities, if you give them the information, they can figure it out on their own.”

Paid for by advertising, FundBook now has more than 1,000 subscribers, Alfano said. The publication, which is available in 10 states, has put out five monthly issues since October and is looking to expand into more states this year.

FundBook describes in great detail what federal grants are available to local governments, what agencies are offering them and when the applications are due. The publication’s authors have found grants for everything from weatherization to reducing lead in homes, even preserving historical records. 

It also updates its readers on the progress of the major appropriations and authorization bills — such as the highway bill and the farm bill — as they move through Congress. 

The publication has only three full-time staff members, including Alfano.

Alfano was a registered lobbyist for Marlowe & Co., where he lobbied for several beachside towns in New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina, among other clients, according to lobbying disclosure records. Another of the publication’s co-founders is Toby Hicks, who also worked at Marlowe, helping clients with their federal grant applications.

“We mainly left because we saw an opportunity. We wanted to fill this vacuum of information about this process,” Alfano said.

Joseph Walker, a friend of Hicks’s from California, rounds out FundBook’s staff. He was previously a consultant to a number of nonprofit groups, helping them find and pursue federal grants.

Howard Marlowe, president of Marlowe & Co., said he wished his former employees well.

“It’s an interesting and graphically well-presented newsletter that puts out the same information that we give to our clients,” Marlowe said. “A lot of folks are out there selling this kind of information. This is just a different model, based off advertising.”

Lobbyists contacted by The Hill said they were impressed by FundBook’s contents. One appropriations lobbyist said the publication was “well-written.”

“What makes this unusual is this is available to everybody,” the lobbyist said. “What I think it does is it allows the smaller municipalities that don’t have Washington representation be more aware of the funding opportunities that are out there.” 

Others see the publication as more evidence that the earmark bans in the House and Senate have changed the funding game in Washington — and lobbying along with it.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, said more and more lobbyists will have to go to the Obama administration instead of Congress to find federal support for their clients’ projects.

“Now that the earmark moratoria are in place, lobbyists are scrambling to find ways to stay in the game, and certainly executive-branch lobbying is going to come to the fore. It’s up to the constituents in these communities to decide whether a lobbyist is a good investment,” Ellis said.

Alfano said FundBook wants to reach out to everyone involved in the budget process — from aides on Capitol Hill to lobbyists to members of the administration — to help contribute as much information as possible about federal grants to the publication. He predicts that earmarks will come back in the future, but for now, competitive federal grants will be where most of the action is.

“There is going to be a lot more money available on the competitive end,” Alfano said. “When the earmark ban ends, and I’m sure it will, we want to be able to help these communities find funding that way, too.”