According to Merriam Webster the definition of an earmark is: a provision in Congressional legislation that allocates a specified amount of money for a specific project, program, or organization. Sounds simple and easy enough to understand from the surface one would wonder why something that simply defines what a Congressional Districts seem to need to meet their personal demands of what their plot of land needs would be an item worthy of mention in a SOTU speech and why Democrats are unhappy with their Democratic President over his statement that he will sign no legislation that includes earmarks, I mean after all, don't we all need earmarks to pay for road improvements, senior centers, and infrastructure projects that help improve the foundation of our hometowns?
Earmarks, by the way, have a much less complimentary name that you may be more familiar with: PORK BARREL spending. Now the casual political observer surely has heard these words and may or may not understand them and I will define in a moment some of the more infamous "earmark" projects that caused great controversy and mainly underscore why there is a problem with them, but before I am done with this piece I hope you will understand one simple fact. Earmarks have become blank gift certificates that need tighter control and greater public study and transparency.
Earmarks have made the news and have either become part of political scandal or amazing tax dollar waste. The Bridge to Nowhere is the best known project in the history of earmarks. At the cost of $223 million former Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens slipped this earmark in to build a bridge to an island where literally 50 people lived. Although the bridge was never built, it got more attention that politicians were comfortable with.
Former Republican Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham was convicted for taking $2.4 million in bribes over earmarked projects in his District that aided defense contractors.
In 2006, an earmark of $500,000 was set aside to build a tea pot museum. Yes, a half a million tax dollars to build a museum for tea pots which I'm sure is very popular and a destination for millions of American families every year.
The most insane road project in the history of America was Boston's Big Dig. Over the course of 20 years and $14 billion tax payer dollars to complete, this project became the black hole of pork barrel spending. To his credit, President Ronald Reagan vetoed this project only to have Congress override this veto and the controversial and fraud laden project was finally completed and basically all is did was redirect traffic.
Very recently, $3.4 million was spent to build a tunnel for traffic so that turtles that lived in an area of Florida could pass the road now without fear of death. I'm pro-turtle, but was this project really necessary?
And my favorite: Although only a paltry $15,000 was earmarked for this project at Florida Atlantic University, we now know what happens to the motor function of alcohol on mice when they are drunk. Let's see, could that $15,000 have been spent feeding the hungry? Just asking.