Despite spending gush on lobbyists, transportation bill stallsby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Interest groups' spending on lobbying has spiked this year as they vie for a piece of a proposed transportation bill in Congress, but the legislation has stalled.
According to a recently released report, Minnesota's special interest groups that hire lobbyists include not only the state's biggest companies, but also counties and cities.
The new numbers come from a report from the Center for Public Integrity, the Washington, D. C.-based online news organization.
Matthew Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity searched the public records to come up with the total for the first part of this year.
"At least $45 million [nationwide] in the first half of this year alone was spent to lobby on transportation spending in Washington," Lewis said.
That is, of course, a lot of money. Viewed another way though, it is a pittance compared to the prize -- a new transportation bill.
The old one expires in a couple weeks. House Transportation Committee chairman, Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar has proposed a $500 billion monster of a bill, nearly double the size of the law that is expiring.
Who's hiring the lobbyists?
Minnesota's largest companies: Target, 3M, Land O Lakes, Supervalu, among others, have spent nearly $2 million, according to federal records.
In the public sector, the records show Minnesota counties and cities are also hiring lobbyists. Anoka County has shelled out $90,000, and Scott County $60,000 so far.
Among the cities, Minneapolis has paid a lobbyist $80,000, and Moorhead has spent the same amount.
Even the state's first residents are eyeing the prize. The northwestern Minnesota White Earth Tribal Nation has spent $60,000 so far this year on transportation and other issues.
In all, Lewis said he's counted more than 1,800 groups nationwide -- including companies, trade organizations, counties and cities -- who've hired lobbyists.
Lewis said the $45 million spent by those groups on lobbying transportation and other issues compares with the lobbying efforts on other bills, but there's one difference.
"It's remarkably similar to what you see spent on climate change," he said. "But you're talking about a substantial amount of money for an issue that has not captured the public imagination to the extent of climate change or the health care debate."
Apparently it hasn't captured the imagination of Congress or the White House either.
The job of creating a new six-year transportation act is languishing. Oberstar had wanted a new law by Labor Day, but the Senate and the Obama administration countered with an 18-month extension of the existing law.
They argue there is too much else currently on the agenda with health, environment and two wars. Oberstar said yesterday that he's prepared to compromise with a three-month extension of existing law.