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More than 700 miles south of Washington, D.C., lies Roanoke, Ala., a quiet community nestled in historic hills near the Georgia border. To some District residents, Roanoke may seem a bit unfamiliar. A drawl in the accent, the down-home kick to a meal, and even a distinction in a saunter all suggest that Roanoke and Washington exist in two different worlds. But in the end, they both have found solid common ground. Washington hands out money, and Roanoke wants it. Last week, the Senate passed a major earmark measure that falls in line with provisions passed by the House earlier this month. The measure, part of the overall ethics reform the Senate passed Jan. 18, requires members to attach their name to every earmark they sponsor and to disclose where funding will be directed. The move, observers say, will force members to think twice about funding projects. Many are foreshadowing a significant decline in the number of pet projects slipped into bills. Consequently, lobbyists whose work involves pushing earmarks to be inserted into legislation are now preparing to polish their pleas to Congress. Some lobbyists also think smaller cities, colleges, and even tribal groups might find it more difficult to get the federal funding they normally receive. “Lobbyists will have to work harder because they will have to make a better case for their clients,” says Jan Schoonmaker, vice president of Van Scoyoc Associates, a D.C. lobby shop that has a track record of securing earmarks for municipal and community development. With new earmark disclosures, Schoonmaker says, “there are going to be constraints in the amount of funding and the number of projects that members will support, but members will continue to look out for their constituents. Notwithstanding Jack Abramoff, it’s really a member’s constituency that makes any project go forward, anyway.” The earmark legislation would also require earmarks to be posted on the Internet at least 48 hours before a vote unless the Senate determines, by a majority vote, that it is urgent to proceed to the legislation. Because lobbyists foresee a decrease in the number of earmarks that will be given this year, some say it could equate to lobbyists losing some of their public clients. Over the past nine years, the number of public entities seeking the help of lobbyists to funnel federal money into their localities nearly doubled to 1,400, and over the past 12 years, the number of earmarks have tripled to 16,000, all in all worth $64 billion a year, according to statistics cited by lawmakers. In light of last week’s earmark reform, that trend may disappear. “There are firms that are going to get walloped,” says Richard Gold of Holland & Knight, which has helped obtain millions of dollars in earmarks for public health-care systems. Gold says public entities are now at risk. “It’s probably going to go downhill from there,” he says. A MARKETING TOOL? Roanoke, Ala., population 6,500, is one of those small towns that Gold says could be at risk of being cut from the federal pipeline. The city recently hired Bradley Arant Rose & White — one of Alabama’s largest lobby shops, with a significant appropriations practice and offices in Birmingham and Montgomery, as well as in Washington, D.C. — to lobby on its behalf. According to Senate lobbying-registration records, the city — with a median per capita income of $14,088 and nearly 19 percent of its population below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data — is seeking funding for highway and industrial development projects as it prepares for a new plastics and molding plant that is slated to created about 250 new jobs in the area as well as improvements in local hospital services, says George Harris, a partner at Bradley Arant and one of its lobbyists working for the city of Roanoke. Roanoke is in the beginning stages of seeking earmarks and hasn’t yet laid out the exact amount it is seeking, Harris says. But the average earmark appropriated for one project under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s economic-development initiative was $228,000 during the 2006 fiscal year. A city like Roanoke pays a lobby shop an average of between $6,000 and $12,000 a month. During the 2006 fiscal year, Bradley Arant obtained between $25 million and $30 million in earmarks for its clients, all of which are in Alabama. And with that, Harris is more optimistic than Gold. The only way significant change would occur this year, he says, is if his clients stop asking for money. In fact, Harris says, earmark reform could serve as something of a marketing tool for his firm. “It can be seen as a marketing technique to the extent where there is change and that our clients are looking for advice on how to deal with those changes,” Harris says. Roger Gwinn, president of the Ferguson Group, a D.C. firm that helps obtain federal appropriations primarily for local governments, says his shop, in anticipation of earmark reform, plans to switch gears and look to the state level for help in fulfilling some of his clients’ funding requests in cases where local and state resources are sufficient to meet their needs. On a federal level, Gwinn says, the disclosure requirement means the burden is now on lobbyists to publicly demonstrate the benefit of specific local projects. “Our view is that the transparency focus of the earmark process is one that’s not going to hurt local governments, and it’s not something we anticipate,” Gwinn says. “It’s clear that there will be fewer earmarks in going forward, so the competition will be fierce. We will have to work very hard to demonstrate broader public benefits in the requests we make in the appropriations process. For lobbyists, there will be more emphasis and work in that area compared to the past.” The Ferguson Group, Patton Boggs, and Alcalde & Fay are a few of the major D.C. lobby shops that have collected millions of dollars from public clients hoping to get federal funds to help with local initiatives such as water infrastructure, transportation, and economic development. It’s stories like that of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), who resigned in November 2005 after pleading guilty to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes in return for giving millions of dollars in defense contracts, that lawmakers don’t want repeated. And along with the Cunningham scandal, some projects receiving federal money have come under attack. They include the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C., which last year received $5 million in earmarks; the Teapot Museum in North Carolina, which received $500,000; and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., which got another $550,000, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit organization that tracks earmarks each year. “These are a few of our favorite ones,” says David Williams, vice president of policy at the organization. “We think there’s more to be done, but we’re very supportive of what’s happened so far,” Williams says. “But we hope that earmarks eventually completely disappear. Members of Congress can go home and brag about [earmarks] and hopefully get re-elected on it. These little towns don’t directly benefit. Pork doesn’t necessarily help people. It’s more of a political tool.”
Osita Iroegbu can be contacted at [email protected].

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