Letter to Ray LaHood Concerning Pay-to-Play Reforms

February 25, 2009

The Hon. Ray LaHood
Secretary of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave.,SE
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Secretary LaHood:

Public Citizen wrote to you on January 27, 2009, requesting that you end theprevious 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 ratherthan 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.[1]

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 andtransportation 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.


David Arkush

Craig Holman, Ph.D.


Government Affairs Lobbyist

Public Citizen’s Congress Watch

Public Citizen



[1] GreenParty v. Jeffrey Garfield, --- F.Supp.2d ---, 2008 WL 5273434 (D.Conn.2008).