Sometimes earmarking government money pays off for U.S. lawmakers — even after they’ve left office.
A new report has found seven former lawmakers who have lobbied Congress on behalf of organizations that they funded while in office. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found that former lawmakers have received $1.9 million in revenue from lobbying clients that they funded with taxpayer dollars when sitting in Congress.
“This is part of the reason why the public is so disgusted by the revolving door,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the citizens group. “It really makes you wonder whether members of Congress are pushing projects because they are the best use of taxpayer dollars or if it helps their job prospects.”
The findings emphasize what could be another problematic phenomenon surrounding so-called earmarks — special requests for funds that were recently banned by congressional leaders after years of controversy, including scandals and even federal prosecutions.
The report highlights the work of four Republicans and three Democrats who have turned their earmark beneficiaries into lobbying benefactors.
In one example, former senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.), onetime majority leader, directed $1.6 million to defense contractor Northrop Grumman in 2008 for a missile launch system on a new class of warships. The earmark was sponsored in the House by a California Democrat.
Lott resigned from Congress in 2007, less than a month before a new restriction took effect that would have required a two-year cooling-off period before he could become a registered lobbyist.
A few months later, he signed a $50,000 a month contract with Northrop Grumman at his new lobbying firm, the Breaux Lott Leadership Group. Senate disclosures show that he lobbied on a variety of issues, including shipbuilding. It total, his firm brought in $1.2 million in revenue from Northrop.
Lott did not return a request for comment.
There has long been a link between earmarks, which lawmakers use to fund projects, and campaign contributions. In perhaps the most famous example, lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti pleaded guilty last year to making $386,000 in illegal corporate campaign contributions to lawmakers in return for millions of dollars’ worth of earmarks.
The findings of the new report raise questions about whether lawmakers could be personally benefiting from directing taxpayer money.
Former congressman Nick Lampson (D-Tex.) secured $47.2 million in earmarks for the City of Houston, most of which went to expanding its shipping lanes. Lampson said in an interview that he started lobbying for the city on space industry issues after Houston lost jobs when the government ended the space shuttle program. He has an indirect contract through the city’s lobbying firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which has paid him $20,000.
“Really and truly, I didn’t lobby as much as I gave them information that I had on what I knew that was going on,” Lampson said. “I had been on that subcommittee.”
Lampson is now trying to get back on the other side and is running for Texas’s 14th Congressional District.
Another former congressman cited in the report, David Hobson (R-Ohio) , has earned $540,000 while lobbying for Woolpert, which received a $1.6 million Air Force earmark requested by Hobson during his term. Hobson’s $30,000-a-month contract with Woolpert is focused on defense appropriations, according to Senate records. He did not return a request for comment.
The report does not include the case of former House member William Delahunt (D-Mass.), who was hired by a small Massachusetts town to develop a wind energy project that he funded with an earmark while in Congress, according to a report in the New York Times. His firm has also been hired by several other organizations that were among his earmark recipients.