WASHINGTON ? President Barack Obama's ban on earmarks in the $825 billion economic stimulus bill doesn't mean interest groups, lobbyists and lawmakers won't be able to funnel money to pet projects.
They're just working around it ? and perhaps inadvertently making the process more secretive.
The projects run the gamut: a Metrolink station that needs building in Placentia, Calif.; a stretch of beach in Sandy Hook, N.J., that could really use some more sand; a water park in Miami.
There are thousands of projects like those that once would have been gotten money upfront but now are left to scramble for dollars at the back end of the process as "ready to go" jobs eligible for the stimulus plan.
The result, as The Associated Press learned in interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers, lobbyists and state and local officials, is a shadowy lobbying effort that may make it difficult to discern how hundreds of billions in federal money will be parceled out.
"'No earmarks' isn't a game-ender," said Peter Buffa, former mayor of Costa Mesa, Calif. "It just means there's a different way of going about making sure the funding is there."
It won't be in legislative language that overtly sets aside money for them. That's the infamous practice known as earmarking, which Obama and Democratic congressional leaders have agreed to nix for the massive stimulus package, expected to come up for a House vote this week.
Instead, the money will be doled out according to arcane formulas spelled out in the bill and in some cases based on the decisions of Obama administration officials, governors and state and local agencies that will choose the projects.
Or maybe this little LIE by Obama.
CNN's Campbell Brown is disappointed by Obama's moves to make William Lynn deputy defense secretary.*(CNN)* -- Just a couple of nights ago, we heaped praise on the new president for announcing what he called a new era of openness, where in his administration, transparency would rule the day.
And the lobbyists that he was so critical of during the campaign? Well, he told us they will now face even tougher new restrictions.*President Obama:* "The executive order on ethics I will sign shortly represents a clean break from business as usual. As of today, lobbyists will be subject to stricter limits than under any other administration in history. If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years. When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am president."
That's what he said two days ago. But as we first told you Thursday, and sadly we are learning more about this Friday, President Obama already wants an exception to his own rule.
You see, what happened is, there is this former lobbyist for a big defense contractor called Raytheon. His name is William Lynn.
President Obama wants him to be deputy defense secretary. So, the Obama administration wants a waiver to its own rule.
That basically means they are saying, we will mostly put tough new restrictions on lobbyists, except when we won't.
Really? Is this how it is going to be?
Please, please don't make us all any more cynical than we already are, Mr. President.