» Government Ethics and Lobbying Reform

» Money in Politics

» Open Government

» Stealth PACs

» Public Protections

Sign Up

To receive regular updates on our campaigns for government accountability. 

Recent Reports

February 20, 2017 - For-Profit President
February 16, 2017 - The Devil in the Details
January 5, 2017 - Jeff Sessions as Alabama Attorney General
November 16, 2016 - The People Shaping the Trump Administration
Sept. 15, 2016 - The Company They Keep
September 14, 2016 - The Historic Campaign for Corporate Political Spending Disclosure

Letter to Ray LaHood Concerning Pay-to-Play Reforms

February 25, 2009

The Hon. Ray LaHood
Secretary of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Secretary LaHood:

Public Citizen wrote to you on January 27, 2009, requesting that you end the previous Administration’s occasional practice of withholding federal highway funds from states that attempt to protect the integrity of their government contracting process by enacting “pay-to-play” reforms. Nine states and dozens of local jurisdictions around the country have implemented contracting reforms that prohibit or restrict potential government contractors from making campaign contributions to those whom award the contracts. On two occasions – New Jersey in 2004 and Illinois last year – the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has threatened to withhold federal highway funds from the states if they apply their pay-to-play reforms to highway contracts.

As noted in our earlier letter:

This federal intervention is unjustified and counterproductive. States have the right, and in fact the duty, to ensure that their contracting procedures conform to the highest ethical standards and offer the best value for taxpayers. Government contracts awarded due to campaign contributions rather than merit are frequently mismanaged and costly.

Pay-to-play abuses in government contracting have plagued many state governments and have brought an end to several political careers. Laws that restrict pay-to-play practices have universally been held constitutional by the courts as narrowly tailored efforts to improve the government contracting process – most recently in Connecticut, where FHWA has not threatened to withhold highways funds.[1]

Now that FHWA is about to receive and disburse another $45 billion in transportation projects as part of the stimulus package, much of it to be awarded to private contractors by the states, Public Citizen once again appeals to you to reverse the decision of the past Administration. Highway and transportation projects generate lucrative contracts of the type that have been at the center of the most recent pay-to-play scandals in Illinois. States need the authority to ensure that these contracts are handled responsibly and issued on the grounds of merit alone, not campaign contributions.

We look forward to hearing from you.




David Arkush


Public Citizen’s Congress Watch

Craig Holman, Ph.D.

Government Affairs Lobbyist

Public Citizen

[1]   Green Party v. Jeffrey Garfield, --- F.Supp.2d ---, 2008 WL 5273434 (D.Conn. 2008).

Copyright © 2017 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


You can support the fight for greater government and corporate accountability through a donation to either Public Citizen, Inc., or Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.

Public Citizen lobbies Congress and federal agencies to advance Public Citizen’s mission of advancing government and corporate accountability. When you make a contribution to Public Citizen, you become a member of Public Citizen, showing your support and entitling you to benefits such as Public Citizen News. Contributions to Public Citizen are not tax-deductible.

Public Citizen Foundation focuses on research, public education, and litigation in support of our mission. By law, the Foundation can engage in only very limited lobbying. Contributions to Public Citizen Foundation are tax-deductible.