Brian Schweitzer has a plan for lobbying and lobbyists
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has a plan to clean up the rancid practice of lobbying, at least in the state of Montana:
Cash games and taking names in Washington, D.C.For the rest, go here.
Missoulian State Bureau
October 9, 2005
Editor's note: Today, the Missoulian begins a three-part series on the business of influence: how lobbyists represent Montana's interests in Washington, D.C.
HELENA - Desolate Carter County is where the blacktop ends. Literally.
About 20 miles south of Ekalaka, Highway 323 - the north-south route that connects Ekalaka to Carter County's other town, Alzada - becomes a gravel road. On a wet day, it's gumbo, usually impassable.
After trying for almost half a century to get federal money to pave the road, Carter County two years ago joined a growing number of state and local government entities in Montana and hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist. Since then, the county has spent $92,250 in public and private money to lobby for the road project.
The investment seems to be paying off. Congress gave more than $8 million for the road work in 2003 and allocated another $9.6 million this year, a total of more than $13,000 for every one of the county's 1,324 residents.
Not bad for a sparsely populated county in Montana's extreme southeastern corner, where the U.S. Census Bureau counts 0.4 people per square mile.
Crews are preparing to pave another section of the highway this month.
”I would think within four years, we would see it paved all the way through here,“ said Carter County Commissioner Bill Loehding.
Montana officials who - like Loehding - have hired D.C. lobbyists say the practice works, reaping far more in federal dollars than local governments spend on lobbying.
Alex Knott, political editor at the Center for Public Integrity, a D.C.-based nonprofit group, takes a different view, characterizing the industry as a network of money, influence and power. Often, Knott said, lobbyists donate money to the lawmakers they're lobbying; their corporate clients do the same, and in many cases, the lobbyists are former lawmakers or staffers of former lawmakers making profitable use of their experience in public service. The ongoing scandal surrounding indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff underscores the need to track the industry more closely, he said.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has taken a stand: He won't employ registered lobbyists in state government and has referred to the industry as part of the ”manure piled around government.“ Schweitzer has also questioned the millions that Montana government entities have spent on lobbying, often to hire lobbyists who compete against other Montana projects. Schweitzer would like to see one lobbyist represent the state, something 47 other states already have. But he also wonders why Montana's three-man congressional delegation can't go to bat for Montana projects.
”These (lobbyist) guys aren't elected officials, but they're acting as gatekeepers to elected officials,“ he said.
Other Schweitzer comments in the article:
"...Democrat Schweitzer questioned why lobbyists and their corporate clients would donate money to lawmakers if not to buy a little influence, creating a situation where citizens who want help from Washington may be better off going to a lobbyist who gives money to their congressman than going to the congressman himself..."
"...During the 2005 Legislature, Schweitzer unsuccessfully proposed a plan to spend $250,000 to hire one D.C. lobbyist for the entire state - an idea he still supports. That way, Schweitzer said in a recent interview, the lobbyists earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money could be replaced by one and the state would save money..."