Campaign Contributions Pave the Way for Highway Construction

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New Report Highlights the Effect of Campaign Giving on Transportation Policy


Boston, MA — The United States has 73,000 crumbling bridges, but year after year, startlingly few federal transportation dollars go to fixing them.

In 2008, just a few months after the tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people, only 74 of the 704 projects earmarked in the Congressional transportation appropriations bill were for repair or maintenance of a bridge, tunnel, or overpass.  That same year, only about ten percent of the projects focused on fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.  Most of the $570 million spent on transportation in 2008 went for new highways and new construction.

Millions of dollars also flowed in another direction: from highway construction companies directly to the campaign coffers of elected officials in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. 

MASSPIRG’s new report, Greasing the Wheels: The Crossroads of Campaign Money and Transportation Policy, looks at the 2008 appropriations bill and lays out the details of Congress’ earmark requests.  The report also examines the campaign contributions from highway construction interests both in Massachusetts and nationally.

“In our current political system, elected officials must raise huge sums of campaign contributions from major donors in order to win reelection,” said Lizzi Weyant, staff attorney at MASSPIRG.  “This system skews spending toward road-widening and new highway projects favored by developers, road builders, and the other interests who make those contributions.”

The report shows that in Massachusetts, $13 million was spent on 17 earmarks. The commonwealth has 585 crumbling bridges, but the 2008 appropriations bill included only 1 earmark for bridge repairs.

“We need to clean up the campaign finance system so that lawmakers can focus on the needs of the public rather than major donors,” concluded Weyant.