Friday, August 03, 2007

When It Comes to Earmarks, Flakes Are a Good Thing!

Republican Friday #2: Another in my series which attempts to establish that some Republicans retain socially redeeming qualities.

According to Tax-Payers for Common Sense there are only two Congressmen who do not request earmarks in appropriations bills. They are Jeff Flake and John B. Shadegg, both Republicans from Arizona.

Obviously we can speculate if it is just a coincidence that they represent constituencies from the home state of Barry Goldwater, an authentic, old-school, conservative.

In order to high-light the earmarking process I rely heavily on the Sunlight Foundation:

What is an earmark?

An earmark is a line-item that is inserted into a bill to direct funds to a specific project or recipient without any public hearing or review. Members of Congress—both in the House and the Senate—use earmarks to direct funds to projects of their choice. Typically earmarks fund projects in the district of the House member or the state of the Senator who inserted it; the beneficiary of the funds can be a state or local agency or a private entity; often, the ultimate beneficiary is a political supporter of the legislator. Earmarks are the principal means by which Members of Congress “bring home the bacon.”

What’s wrong with earmarks?

In the ear-marking process there is no transparency or accountability in the system. Members can secure hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for a project without subjecting it to debate by their colleagues in the Congress, or to the scrutiny and oversight of the public. Because earmarks are hard to identify, some members use them to secretly award their biggest campaign contributors. The secrecy of the earmarking process invites backroom deals and unethical—or even corrupt—behavior, part of a pay-to-play culture where lobbyists and contractors and well-connected individuals give campaign contributions to legislators in return for federal funding.

Where do you find a list of earmarks?

Earmarks are not published in any one place. They are inserted anonymously as line items in appropriations and other bills, or appear, sometimes as lists, sometimes embedded in text, in the House, Senate or Conference Committee reports that accompany legislation.

How can I find out who inserted an earmark?

Authors of earmarks are generally anonymous; under current congressional rules, there is no requirement that a member identify his or her earmarks. Some Representatives and Senator publicize the earmarks that they secure by issuing press releases; many others refuse to discuss them. One way of telling who secured an earmark is to look at the name of the entity receiving the money. Many bridges, university buildings, and technology centers have been named after the appropriators who secured the federal funding for the project.

Who secures the most earmarks?

Generally the more powerful members of Congress get more earmarks. The surest way to become a leader in earmarking is to sit on the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate. Members of these committees, and especially the chairs of their subcommittees, are in the best position to secure earmarks.

Like Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska, for example.

They can insert them into spending bills during closed committee meetings, with no public scrutiny. Earmarks are also offered to members to entice them to vote for a bill they otherwise would not vote for. Sen. Tom Coburn calls earmarks the “trading currency” of Congress.

How are earmarks requested?

Members of Congress request that earmarks be placed in particular bills. The language used is often written by lobbyists who have been hired to obtain the federal funding for a project from a particular legislator. Some members of Congress offer online “Appropriations Request Forms” where an earmark-seeker can send their request for funds directly to the member’s office. But for most this is still a highly secretive process.

What is a conference committee?

Before a bill becomes a law, both the House and the Senate must pass a single, identical version of the bill. (Often times, in the legislative process, the two chambers pass bills that have slightly different language, or differing amendments.) A conference committee, made up of lawmakers selected from both the House and the Senate, reconcile differences and agree on the final language of a bill. The conferees tend to include the chairman and ranking members of the committee from which the bill emerged along with other selected members.

How are conference committees involved in the earmarking process?

Earmarks are often slipped into conference committee reports after the differing bills have passed one of the two legislative chambers. This is an even more secretive course of action than the insertion of earmarks during the regular committee process. Because the conference version of a bill cannot be challenged by amendment on the floor, the inclusion of an earmark at this stage usually guarantees its passage with no debate and little publicity or oversight.

Do members of Congress like earmarks?

Of course members like earmarks! One of the keys to pleasing constituents, and maintaining incumbency, is to prove how much federal money you can bring home to your district. Just look at the press releases on a member’s web site. They are proud of the money that they have secured. In recent reelection races Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, both touted their ability to bring home federal dollars. Legislators in tight races are helped enormously by earmarks as they can tout their ability to provide for their district.

What purpose do earmarks serve?

Earmarks serve many purposes. They provide a way for members of Congress to secure funds for important projects that they may have better knowledge about than others from outside of their district. They can also help a member bring jobs to their district. Earmarks also help members get reelected. By securing funding for a project that brings new jobs to a depressed community or for much needed infrastructure repairs, a legislator can show what they can do for their community. Members of Congress also can receive campaign contributions from those seeking an earmark, or from the lobbying firm hired to secure the funds.

How many earmarks are there in a given year?

The number of earmarks has been on the rise for a decade. In 1996 there were only 3,055 earmarks. In 2004 there were 14,211 of them, costing some $52.69 billion dollars. H.R. 5647, the “Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations” bill, contains a total of 1,700 earmarks inserted just by House members; that number will surely increase when the Senate begins considering it.

Why has earmarking grown so much over the past decade?

Earmarking began to grow after 1996, two years after the Republican takeover of Congress. The new majority used earmarks as a means of protecting vulnerable incumbents by showing their ability to secure funds for local projects. This growth in earmarks created its own industry among lobbyists in Washington who specialize in securing the special provisions for local interests (schools, universities, recreation centers, municipalities, cities, etc…) and for private companies, including defense and other government contractors.

A shining example of the excess and abuses of the earmarking process is H.R. 5647, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Just last year the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill carried no earmarks. This year’s version contains over 1,700 earmarked projects totaling nearly $1 billion.

Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has distinguished himself by launching a crusade against earmarks, especially against those authored by members of his own GOP. On June 20, 2006, he even attempted to strip an earmark inserted by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) which is set to provide $2.5 million for the Illinois Technology Transistion Center. Flake also criticized an earmark of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) which set aside $250,000 for a public swimming pool in Benning, California. On July 8, 2006, Flake attempted to strip a $250,000 appropriation for the Science Museum of Virginia. He stated,
I would note that the museum will soon open a traveling exhibit on candy, sponsored by the Jelly Belly Candy Co...It does not sound like much research to me.
Unfortunately, each of Flake’s attempts failed. More unfortunately, still, is that there are not more FLAKES in Congress. Earmarks prosper as Congress' dirty little secrets.

5 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Sapo said...

Those numbers are frightening! Thanks for the info, Vigilante.

8/03/2007 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Boris said...

America is falling apart, one bridge at a time. Stevens wants to build a bridge to no where. How about repairing all the bridges that bind America together, starting with those which span the Mississipi.

8/04/2007 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

Stevens is not the only champion GOP earmarker from Alaska. Here, Don Young Fights for His Money.

8/05/2007 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger Pink Liberty said...

They actually look like they are shining lights of goodness...yikes.

8/06/2007 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Mad Mike has posted (possibly unintentionally) an object lesson into the perils of seeking bipartisan relationships with Republicans.

8/07/2007 10:09:00 PM  

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