Every five years Congress passes a massive transportation funding
bill that is often filled with so much pork the legislation is
usually embraced by nearly every congressman and senator.
But this year, besides the $283.9 billion to be spent in the bill
- which passed the House last week - there's at least one amendment
that is trying to make it easier for states to forestall corruption.
The change entails the effort by states to end what is termed
"pay to play," that is the giving of political contributions by
companies seeking government contracts. What makes this amendment
even more unusual is that it's sponsored by three congressmen from
New Jersey, a state that seems to wake up every morning to another
round of indicted officials. The legislation, say its sponsors, will
narrow the potential for graft. And it might actually lower the cost
of repaving all those freeways.
"There's less of an opportunity for a wink and a blink, and the
contracts may be saving people money," says Rep. Bill Pascrell (D),
who cosponsored the amendment with Rep. Robert Menendez (D), and
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R).
The federal amendment became necessary after New Jersey passed
legislation banning pay to play in the state last fall. But the
Federal Highway Administration warned the state was in danger of
losing $260 million in federal funds if it implemented the
legislation. The reason: The new law might cut down on the number of
companies bidding on contracts using federal dollars.
To some extent an increasing number of states, including
Connecticut, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Illinois have passed
similar types of laws. The legislation has also passed in individual
towns and counties. New Jersey's law, however, is the most far-
reaching. "Every other state allows people who contribute at the
state level to apply for federal low-bid contracts," says Marc
LaVorgna, director of communications for the New Jersey Department
In the name of saving the taxpayer money, the federal rules have
existed for some time. For example, in the 1980s, opponents of
apartheid failed to prevent companies who were doing business in
South Africa from bidding on federal projects. "No matter how noble
the cause, it would take an act of Congress to change the law," says
In fact, in recent times, the courts have generally upheld
certain "pay to play" prohibitions. …