High-speed rail: Lobbyists clamor for stimulus money
(The following story by Alexander C. Hart appeared on the Chicago Tribune website on December 1, 2009.)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Stimulus money for high-speed rail has sparked a feeding frenzy among lobbyists, according to a new report from a watchdog group.
Competition for federal stimulus grants led more than 50 groups to lobby on high-speed rail policy in the third quarter of 2009, the Center for Public Integrity reports. That number is roughly triple the 17 groups doing so just a year earlier.
Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia made requests totaling $57 billion, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Only $8 billion is available.
As a result, states, cities and manufacturing companies rushed to hire lobbyists to push their interests.
One example is Los Angeles, which would benefit from a rail link to San Francisco. It hired high-powered lobbying firm Patton Boggs.
General Electric, Siemens, steelmaker Arcelor Mittal and commercial rail giant Norfolk Southern are also lobbying on the issue, said Matthew Lewis, author of the group's article.
"I don't think this rise in lobbying is a bad thing," Lewis said. "It's just important to note and scrutinize how decisions are going to be shaped."
Lewis added that his report is "dramatically underestimating" the number of groups lobbying on high-speed rail because lobbyists can list their work in broad areas, like transportation, rather than specific subjects.
And because disclosure forms cover lobbying on multiple issues, it is almost impossible to estimate how much is spent on high-speed rail. But experts agree: more than last year.
High-speed rail advocates were happy to see the expansion of lobbying.
"I would like to see hundreds and hundreds of lobbying firms working for high-speed rail," said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. "This is a very, very big issue. There's a lot that needs to be done."
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
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