Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

It’s a well worn cliche, but it remains true. And here are some examples of why we need to pay attention to what every president, including Obama, does rather than what they say. AP reports that the alleged ban on earmarks declared by Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress in the stimulus package is doing little to actually do away with earmarks in the bill:

President Barack Obama’s ban on earmarks in the $825 billion economic stimulus bill doesn’t mean interest groups, lobbyists and lawmakers won’t be able to funnel money to pet projects.

They’re just working around it–and perhaps inadvertently making the process more secretive.

The projects run the gamut: a Metrolink station that needs building in Placentia, Calif.; a stretch of beach in Sandy Hook, N.J., that could really use some more sand; a water park in Miami.

There are thousands of projects like those that once would have been gotten money upfront but now are left to scramble for dollars at the back end of the process as “ready to go” jobs eligible for the stimulus plan.

This should not surprise anyone. As Lewis Lapham wrote nearly two decades ago in The Wish for Kings, the government today functions much like the court of Louis XIV, surrounded by courtiers seeking favors — tax breaks, subsidies, government contracts, exemptions from regulation, etc — from the king. When the call went out to the states to compile lists of “shovel ready” projects, it was inevitable that many of those projects would primarily benefit well-connected individuals and companies who were major contributors to the electoral campaigns of those who put such lists together.

In Michigan, the state asked local governments in cities, townships and counties to submit lists of their own local projects. The Michigan Municipal League released a list of about 1200 projects around the state, at a cost of more than $3 billion, that were requested by local officials.

My Michigan Messenger colleague Todd Heywood has already found one “railroad to nowhere” project on that list, as well as a $10 million library in a community that the community has twice rejected in elections. Those are not Obama’s fault, of course, but it does show the necessity of looking at actual results rather than words.

Another example: Lindsey Beyerstein at the Washington Independent points out that after promising that no lobbyists would be allowed to work in his administration on anything that affects companies they lobbied for, Obama has named a lobbyist for major defense contractor Raytheon to be the #2 man in the Defense Department, a clear violation of those promises:

On his first day in office, Obama signed an executive order to slow the “revolving door” between lobbying and government work, drawing widespread praise for taking a tough stance against influence-peddling.

Under these new rules, lobbyists hired fresh off K Street would be subject to severe restrictions during their first two years on the job. They would be barred not only from making any decisions about their former clients, but also from working on any of their old lobbying issues, as well as from seeking employment with any federal agency they lobbied.

The rules appear to disqualify Lynn on all three counts. According to Raytheon’s 2008 first-quarter lobbying disclosure form, available at OpenSecrets.org, Lynn — who, according to his company bio, was Raytheon’s senior vice president of government operations and strategy from August 2002 until last week – lobbied on the FY09 Defense Appropriations Bill and other key defense and intelligence legislation for “provisions related to acquisition policy, force protection, military space and intelligence, command and control, simulation and training, self-defense systems and decoys, missile defense, sensors and radars, missiles, munitions and artillery, and advanced technology programs.” Doesn’t leave much out, does it? If Lynn had to recuse himself from all those areas, his first two years in office wouldn’t be very busy.

The same lobbying disclosure form shows that Lynn’s team lobbied the Department of Defense, where he now hopes to work-which would be another no-no if Obama’s rules applied to Lynn.

Allowing Lynn to take over the No. 2 spot at the Pentagon invites conflicts of interest, both real and perceived. The deputy secretary of defense is the department’s chief operating officer – which includes overseeing acquisitions. If he gets the job, he’ll pretty much have to do business with Raytheon.

Raytheon received $11.62 billion in federal contracts in 2007 (the last year for which complete records are available) with billions more going to Raytheon’s subsidiaries and strategic partners, according to OMB Watch’s database, FedSpending.org-not a bad return on its lobbying investment that year, which OpenSecrets.org pegs at $6.58 million.

Actions speak far louder than words, Mr. President.