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Editorial: Timing Right for Lobbying Firm

Posted @ Monday, June 01, 2015   
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Editorial: Timing Right for Lobbying Firm

June 1, 2015


For most of nearly a decade, the city of Greenville received a handsome return on its contract with Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm The Ferguson Group. Four years after that contract was allowed to expire, the city has again hired the firm and there is reason to believe the investment could pay off again.

In 2002, the City Council first hired The Ferguson Group, under the direction of Mayor Don Parrott, to advocate on behalf of Greenville to win federal funding for city projects. The move received a healthy dose of skepticism at the time, and rightly so since there was no guarantee that the city’s $100,000 investment would be rewarded.

The firm had a track record of success, however, and Greenville added its name to the win column in a matter of months with a $200,000 gain. The firm secured that amount to pay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess storm runoff in Greenville and study bank stabilization.

Hiring a lobbying firm to do the city’s bidding in Washington might seem distasteful to some who believe that lawmakers representing the city should be as capable. Lobbying firms have held tremendous sway, however, in the process of inserting language in large appropriation bills that designate money for city projects in a process known as earmarking.

That process changed in 2010 when Congress approved a moratorium on earmarks. That development caused many local governments to rethink their relationships with lobbying firms and likely played a role in Greenville’s decision to drop The Ferguson Group.

Lobbying firms have adapted their strategies since the moratorium and local governments are responding. Hiring lobbyists to navigate the enormous size and complicated nature of the federal budget still can give cities a competitive advantage in securing funds for projects.

Prior to the moratorium, and the recession that hit in 2008, the process worked extremely well for Greenville.

Addressing the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce in October 2007, Parrott was nearing the end of his third term as mayor and included the hiring of The Ferguson Group among his top accomplishments. At that point, the group had won earmarks in the federal budget totaling more than $14 million for projects — including the 10th Street Connector, greenways, west Greenville revitalization, wireless technology for police, stream restoration studies, expansion buses and the intermodal center.

The political and economic currents may be moving in different directions today, but the economy is strong again and Greenville leaders are right to again test the lobbying waters that once paid off so well for city taxpayers.

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