Via Oligopoly Watch, a New York Times article from last month reports on how “earmarks” – special amendments and addenda that Congressmen write into spending bills to payoff their supporters and cronies – are raining down a feast of cash on defense contractors. What’s interesting to us is the table of figures, compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, that shows how much contractors spent in lobbying money vs. how much was returned to them via earmarks:

A comparison between money spent on lobbying and the amount received in earmark funds in the first half of 2007
Company Millions in earmarks Millions spent on lobbying
L3 Communivations $69.5 $0.14
DPS Technology $31.5 $1.3
Raytheon $30 $0.99
General Dynamics $26.5 $0.58
Science Applications $26.5 $0.44
Northrop Grumman $22 $0.17
BAE Systems $21 $0.23
Honeywell $18.5 $0.08
Concurrent Technologies $18 $0.16
Getstalt $18 $0.12
Data compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense

Notice that the payoff is a minimum of 10:1 and can be as high as 100:1. Raytheon invested just under $1 million and got $30 million in return. General Dynamics invested half a million and got $26.5 million back. Northrup Grumman invested a paltry $.17 million and got $22 million back. You can see the pattern here. It doesn’t take all that much to buy a Congressman. A half-million here, a half-million there and pretty soon you get some real nice results.

This tells us the AMA needs to be spending some cold, hard cash on Congress. AMA president Rob Dingman knows how this works. As a former AMA lobbyist he knows the system. But it’s clear that the AMA’s lack of focus in the past has led to a rather pathetic lobbying effort. We need more. Much more.

Of course,it’s not quite as straightforward for us as for the weapons builders. The AMA isn’t after juicy, overpriced contracts. But we do need funds for all kinds of research. We haven’t had a decent motorcycle crash study since the Hurt Report in the ‘80s. And we’ve never had any kind of research to understand the physics of offroad injuries. But what we really need are the right kinds of legislation. And Congressmen who are genuinely on our side (meaning we’ve paid them) to stand up against boneheaded attempts to regulate us out of existence.

With just under 300,000 members at $39/year the AMA raises over $10 million each year from the membership. I don’t know what they get from Corporate Members. But a couple of million dollars spread around on 5–6 key Congressmen would go a long way in addressing some of our legislative issues. And yes, it really is that simple. It can’t be that obivious – politicians do have some standards. And it takes some time to get the right Congressmen. But it really is all about the money. Don’t believe otherwise for a minute.