FOR EACH OF the three years since earmarks were outlawed by Congress, total lobbying expenditures have diminished. Other factors are surely at play, not least of which is congressional gridlock. The recent government shutdown, for example, kept many lobbyists entirely out of the fray. But the earmark moratorium has dealt a unique blow to the influence industry, one that simply cannot be gainsaid.
The most obvious reason for this is that the absence of earmarks, long used as bargaining chips, permits less opportunity for leverage in the political arena. Earlier this month, former Rep. George Nethercutt (R. Wash.), an opponent of the ban, wrote in a blog post for The Hill that an “unintended consequence” of banning earmarks is the creation of “purist legislators who largely disdain compromise” and “resist seniority.” For lobbyists, these members would become off limits, thus narrowing the playing field. (A retort to Nethercutt’s argument can be found here). Jim Dyer of Podesta has gone so far as to say that lobbying will never be the same again. “Opponents of earmarks, they won,” Dyer told Roll Call. “And look what they got: complete paralysis.”
But some lobbying firms have lost more than just a tool for leverage–they’ve lost significant business. Cassidy & Associates is an example of a firm, cited by Roll Call’s Kate Ackley, that “pioneered the dash for earmarks,” and thus relied heavily on their existence. For Cassidy and others, losing earmarks was like losing the ground on which they stood:
[Cassidy] had the highest grossing fees (more than $27 million) back in 2000 as measured by the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Last year, Cassidy reported about $15.5 million….In December 2010, on the cusp of the earmark moratorium, the firm restructured and laid off about a dozen employees.
So while the earmark debate still rages, doing its damage to Republican unity (see here and here), lobbyists of both parties are left weakened in its wake, forced to search for alternatives to a process they’ve spent years to master. Whether or not a ban on earmarks is good for the country is still very much in question. To doubt its effect on Washington lobbying is to ignore plain facts.