PSRC gives away public money to local advocacy groups to lobby for public transit

July 11, 2012

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) recently awarded over $250,000 in public money to 24 local advocacy groups to organize, influence and promote public transit and transit oriented development around the region.

The money is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and it is part of a program called Growing Transit Communities.  According to the PSRC, “The goal of Growing Transit Communities is putting jobs and opportunity closer to where people live.”

Many of the grant recipients are well known local advocacy groups who organize campaigns and lobby for legislation and ballot measures. They include Futurewise, Transportation Choices Coalition, Cascade Bicycle Club, OneAmerica and others. A few years ago, the State Auditor’s Office found Sound Transit officials in violation of illegally giving public money to some of these same groups.

More remarkable are the explanations on how these groups plan to use the public tax money…many of them describe the first stages of outright advocacy and lobbying campaigns.

  • “Trainings will give participants tangible tools and strategies on how to impact transportation and land use decision in their communities, they will be interactive and require practice, with teaching focused on the goal of long-term training and engagement.”
  • “Pilot a grassroots strategy to build a constituency of low-income families, people of color, and refugees and immigrants for the East Link project.”
  • “TCC will incentivize, educate and engage the community on how to impact the land use and transportation decision-making process.”
  • “They will accomplish this by leveraging existing community relationships and networks to do outreach, bring people together for Town Hall meetings, educate the community on transit issues, listen as they identify their needs and priorities, and act as a conduit to help them engage directly in the larger regional transit planning process.”
  • “This project will reach historically underrepresented populations and train them on how to influence transportation and land use decisions in South Downtown, Hilltop, and surrounding neighborhoods.”
  • “In addition to the training, TCC will identify 500 individuals they can organize around future planning opportunities.”

One of the recipients of the public money is Transportation Choices Coalition and their grant proposal is described as training residents to advocate for transit projects in Pierce County. They even go as far as using the public money to buy and give away free transit passes to “incentive” participation in their so called “training” sessions. Coincidentally (or maybe not coincidentally), Transportation Choices Coalition is behind the Yes campaign to pass a sales tax increase proposed by Pierce Transit this November.

The most significant obstacle to fixing our transportation system is funding, so using what public money is available to give to advocacy groups who lobby in some cases, for higher taxes is not only wasteful but unethical.

Read the full list of grant recipients and how they will use your money: Round 1, Round 2


No Lobbying With These Grants

Hi Michael.

The the contracts for these small community planning grants specifically prohibit lobbying activities.

The Puget Sound Regional Council is required to audit how grant funds are used and assure compliance with state and federal laws.

As you know, state law prohibits the use of public funds for political campaigns.

The grants are one part of a competitive grant the region received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The grant has the backing of a broad range of public and private interests throughout the region, and an oversight committee that includes representatives of the Urban Land Institute, Forterra, local and state governments, the Quality Growth Alliance, the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington – and many other interests.

My sense is that many diverse interests have rallied around this work for one big reason: By planning for more transit communities now we can maximize the return on the investment voters have made in new regional transit systems.

There’s a website to learn more about it:

Rick Olson
Puget Sound Regional Council