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Earmark Ban Hits Lobbyists' Influence on Spending Bills

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Earmarks were at the heart of several political corruption scandals and became a target of budget-cutting lawmakers and outside groups. Many of the K Street firms that pioneered the practice of securing member-directed pots of money in annual appropriations bills have taken a serious hit since lawmakers banned earmarks in 2010.

Rich Gold, who heads the lobbying practice at Holland & Knight, said most members of Congress he talks to are frustrated by the degree of power the executive branch wields over funding decisions, and he finds the administration’s spending decisions difficult to decipher.

“The problem with the grant process, it’s not transparent at all,” said Gold, who was an official in Clinton administration. “If you had a president who was more Lyndon Johnson-esque, he could use these projects to hold over members of Congress’ heads. That’s not going on because this administration doesn’t even know the name of that game, let alone how to play it.”

Gold said that the next Congress, when it convenes in 2015, might be ready to institute something that looks a lot like earmarks once did.

“I think we’re getting there,” he said. “The question remaining to be answered is: How will members tell mom and dad who vote for them that we’re going to do this again?”

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