Stamford debates hiring lobbyist to maximize federal funding, as other cities oppose
It may seem odd that city governments hire lobbyists to help them secure funds from state and federal governments.
But, increasingly, that is what cities are doing.
City officials pay lobbying firms to help them navigate government bureaucracies and submit applications that give them the best chance of getting grants, loans and tax credits to fix schools and roads, build affordable housing, strengthen law enforcement and improve their communities.
It’s not cheap.
Lobbyists cost $10,000 or more a month, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year in an article about how cities are hiring more and more lobbyists to help them compete for an unprecedented amount of money. federal government that became available after President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. in November.
That’s about what Stamford pays Sustainable Strategies DC, a Washington, DC lobbyist the city first hired in the 1990s, according to the company’s February response to a request for proposals. of the city of companies that do the work.
The Stamford Board of Representatives will vote at its June 6 meeting on whether to approve another contract with Sustainable Strategies DC, for an annual fee of $120,600.
It’s a good move, said Richard Freedman, chairman of the Stamford Board of Finance, which must also approve the fee.
“I think if everyone hires a lobbyist, we should have a lobbyist,” Freedman said. “The fees don’t seem like a big investment when there are potentially millions of dollars at stake. And we got millions of dollars.
According to its proposal, Sustainable Strategies DC has helped Stamford secure $250 million in state, federal, foundation and other funding over two decades.
“We have represented Stamford for more than 20 years before Congress, the White House, federal agencies, the State of Connecticut, philanthropic foundations and national businesses seeking to support local progress,” the company wrote in its proposal. .
“We have worked with several Mayors, Councils of Representatives and several City staff to help Stamford pursue and succeed with the creation of Mill River Park, the upgrading of the Stamford Intermodal Transport Hub, the Stamford Urban Transitway, Harbor Point and the development of South Fin, the revival of the Stamford Hospital Complex, the establishment of the Fairgate Housing Centre, the upgrading of the Clinton Manor Housing Centre, the improvement of the facilities of the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority, the equipping of the Stamford Police Department with new equipment, historic preservation projects, stormwater management projects, microgrid and sustainability projects, and many other initiatives.
The lobbyist wrote that his specific successes include helping Stamford get $1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire more firefighters; a $338,346 grant from the United States Department of Justice to help fund a police-worn camera initiative; $75 million in federal funding for the construction of the Urban Transitway; $3.5 million in federal transportation funding for projects in the South Ward; $250,000 for streetscape improvements in Waterside; and $850,000 from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Healthy Homes program to reduce asthma in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
Freedman said “the question to ask is how much is directly attributable to the lobbyist.” Stamford has a grants office that prepares the complicated documentation showing how the city meets each grant’s requirements, he said.
“The grants office files the applications and the lobbyist adds value beyond that,” Freedman said. “I think it takes both.”
Not all towns do. Norwalk, for example, does not have a lobbyist, communications director Michelle Woods Matthews said.
Hiring a lobbyist is not on the radar of City of Fairfield officials, said Jackie Bertolone, chief of staff for first coach Brenda Kupchick.
“We included a part-time grants coordinator in last year’s budget. We got it on the second try,” after an attempt the year before, Bertolone said.
Mike Downes, chief of staff to Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick, said the city also lacked a lobbyist. Instead, Stratford has “a grants writer on staff who seeks federal, state and other sources. He did a good job for us. »
City departments are working with their state counterparts to secure funding, Downes said. Stratford’s Department of Conservation, for example, works with the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, he said.
U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut’s Third Congressional District and the two U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, “told us about the grant resources,” Downes said.
“Our state legislative delegation is also working to do that for us,” Downes said.
Julia Payson, an assistant professor at New York University and author of the book “When Cities Lobby,” wrote an analysis for the Wall Street Journal last month. Payson found that cities receive more money from their home countries after hiring lobbyists.
“But some cities benefit more than others,” Payson wrote. “Cities with higher median incomes receive more funding per capita when they lobby, in part because they spend more money and tend to lobby for more bills.”
His analysis revealed an advantage for cities of all income levels, Payson wrote, as they lobby not only for funding, but also to communicate “with elected officials at other levels of government and to advocate for policies that will benefit their residents”.
Lobbyists are of particular help to cities facing political conflict, she wrote. That includes situations in which a strongly Democratic city exists in a Republican-led state, or vice versa, she wrote.