Letter to Ray LaHood Concerning Pay-to-Play Reforms
February 25, 2009
The Hon. Ray LaHood
Secretary of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave.,
Washington, D.C. 20590
Dear Secretary LaHood:
Public Citizen wrote to you on January 27, 2009, requesting that you end the
previous Administration’s occasional practice of withholding federal highway
funds from states that attempt to protect the integrity of their government
contracting process by enacting “pay-to-play” reforms. Nine states and dozens of
local jurisdictions around the country have implemented contracting reforms that
prohibit or restrict potential government contractors from making campaign
contributions to those whom award the contracts. On two occasions – New Jersey
in 2004 and Illinois last year – the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has
threatened to withhold federal highway funds from the states if they apply their
pay-to-play reforms to highway contracts.
As noted in our earlier letter:
This federal intervention is unjustified and counterproductive. States
have the right, and in fact the duty, to ensure that their contracting
procedures conform to the highest ethical standards and offer the best value for
taxpayers. Government contracts awarded due to campaign contributions rather
than merit are frequently mismanaged and costly.
Pay-to-play abuses in government contracting have plagued many state
governments and have brought an end to several political careers. Laws that
restrict pay-to-play practices have universally been held constitutional by the
courts as narrowly tailored efforts to improve the government contracting
process – most recently in Connecticut, where FHWA has not threatened to
withhold highways funds.
Now that FHWA is about to receive and disburse another $45 billion in
transportation projects as part of the stimulus package, much of it to be
awarded to private contractors by the states, Public Citizen once again appeals
to you to reverse the decision of the past Administration. Highway and
transportation projects generate lucrative contracts of the type that have been
at the center of the most recent pay-to-play scandals in Illinois. States need
the authority to ensure that these contracts are handled responsibly and issued
on the grounds of merit alone, not campaign contributions.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Public Citizen’s Congress Watch
Craig Holman, Ph.D.
Government Affairs Lobbyist
Party v. Jeffrey Garfield, --- F.Supp.2d ---, 2008 WL 5273434 (D.Conn.