Today's Seattle Times reports that 17 of Patty Murray's former staffers have gone on to careers in lobbying, helping major donors tap into the millions of dollars in earmark money she brings home each year. "A price for access" is how one of the story's sections is headlined (though no one is quoted saying that).
But according to a database maintained in part by one of the anti-earmark advocates quoted in the Times' story, the majority of the money Murray sends back to her home state is going to people who haven't given her a dime.
This summer, the Center for Responsive Politics (a campaign donations watchdog) and Taxpayers for Common Sense (an anti-earmark group) joined forces to create a database comparing earmark recipients to campaign donors. According to that database, just 18 percent of the $219.5 million in earmarks that Murray created for special projects this year went to companies whose executives and/or employees gave her money.
The rest went to people like Thomas Mick, the CEO of the Washington Grain Alliance, which represents wheat farmers in eastern Washington. The alliance has been regularly receiving money from Washington to help it create a type of wheat that doesn't need yearly replanting. "If we can get a wheat that will continue, we'd save a tremendous amount of money," Mick says.
This year, the Alliance and Washington State University received $98,000 to continue that research. But neither the Alliance nor Mick himself are donors to Murray's campaign. The Alliance also didn't hire a lobbyist to get the money. Mick says he got the allocation by visiting with Murray himself on an annual trip to D.C.
Jean Farmer, Executive Director of the Northeast Community Center in Spokane, laughs out loud when asked if she hired a lobbyist in pursuing a $490,000 earmark to expand NCC's health clinic. "We don't do that; there's no way we could," Farmer says. NCC directly petitioned Murray's staff for help.
The Seattle Times isn't wrong to point out the relationships between staffers, lobbyists, donors and earmarks. But the numbers from the CRP/TCS database and the experience of Mick and Farmer just doesn't bear out the claim that the only way to gain access is to pay the price.