Last year, 2007, Congress passed a 3,500 -page omnibus spending bill after less than 24 hours for review. The bill, which mostly renewed funding for existing programs, contained more than 11,000 "earmarks"- worth at least $20 billion- for legislators' pet projects, including:
*Olive fruit fly research in France..............................$213,000
*Fish-waste research in Alaska...................................$2.5 million
*Awning renovations in Roanoke, Va.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,$250,000
*Center for Grape Genetics in Geneva, N.Y.............$1.9 million
*Cormorant control in Vermont, Michigan,
Mississippi, & New York............................................$1.2 million
*President Bush stuck in..............................................$9 million
for his daddy's pet projects, &...................................$24 million
Senator Obama joined with other lawmakers last year to obtain almost $100 million worth of earmarks for Illinois. Clinton worked with others to win $342 million in pet projects for New York and Pelosi obtained $94 million for California
*In 2005, $27 billion were allocated by our Congress for over 15,000 projects.
The real problem with earmarks, is that they circumvent the normal process, since they typically are placed in bills without discussions. Thus, lawmakers never get to debate them & find out that they're just more pork!
As many Americans now know, Social Security currently runs a surplus, but will begin to run a deficit by about 2017. What many are surprised to learn is that Congress is spending today's Social Security surplus on pork and earmarks
- such as the $3,000,000 the federal government gave to the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation or the $1,700,000 it paid for the International Fertilizer Development Center.
Even as federal power vastly expanded during the twentieth century, Congress did not earmark extensively until the 1980s. Instead, Congress would fund general grant programs and let federal and state agencies select individual recipients through a competitive process or formula. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees named specific projects only when they had been vetted and approved by authorizing committees. Members of Congress with local concerns would lobby the president and federal agencies for consideration. The process was aimed at preventing abuse and allocating resources on the basis of merit and need.
Today, Appropriations Committee members arbitrarily pick winners and losers by earmarking funds for specific recipients. Rank and file members, backed by an army of lobbyists, bypass authorizing committees and lobby appropriators directly for pet projectsThe Incursion of Lobbyists Pork-barrel spending has been reinforced by an army of lobbyists and firms that specialize in securing earmarks for clients, including private companies, government contractors, universities, cities, and state governments. The number of reports filed by firms lobbying Congress on budget and appropriations issues swelled from 1,447 in 1998 to 4,013 in 2005. Even that number is incomplete because lobbyists are exempt from filing disclosure forms for work done on behalf of state and local governments. Washington has nearly 35,000 registered lobbyists, more than twice as many as it had in 2000. Including the unregistered lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants involved in influencing policy in Washington, the number of individuals seeking federal tax dollars is about 200,000. Many lobbyists are former members of Congress. According to a study by Public Citizen, 43 percent of eligible members of Congress who left office since 1998 have become lobbyists. The Founding Fathers envisioned a parliamentary system run by citizen-legislators. The modern ideal seems to be lobbyist-legislators, for whom public service is a stopover to a lucrative career in the influence-peddling industry. These "public servants"-turned-lobbyists capitalize on their relationships with former colleagues to get earmarks slipped into appropriations bills. As ex-members, they also benefit from special perks. Some of the privileges, such as access to the congressional gym, have been eliminated by recent legislation and rules changes. After an earmark is funded, the lobbyist or the lobbyist's client often returns the favor by donating to the reelection campaign of the member who secured the earmark. Some lobbyists serve a special role in campaign fund-raising by heading up members' political action committees (PACs). Appropriations Committee staffers also face incentives to grease the wheels of the pork-barrel. Staffers know that helping a lobbyist secure an earmark can lead to a job offer from that lobbyist down the road. A former staffer with legislative savvy and personal connections can command a six-figure salary as an appropriations lobbyist. The Los Angeles Times offered a telling description of former appropriations staffers: "A clubby bipartisan fraternity, they even have an alumni club: the Googol Society (named for the word that means 10 to the hundredth power). They meet twice a year for drinks with current committee staffers."Many congressional relatives also earn a lucrative living by lobbying for earmarks, including the brother of House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member John Murtha (D-Pa.), the brother-in-law of former Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and the son of House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member David Obey (D-Wis.). Most congressional offices have appropriations-request forms for groups that crave a slice of "tax dollar pie." The office then submits these forms to the Appropriations Committees. In fiscal 2005, the House Appropriations Committee received 34,687 project requests nearly 80 per member. The project's success in getting funded seems to depend on the legislative pull of the sponsoring member and the presence of a lobbyist to help along the request. The link between pork and campaign donations invites corruption and the revolving door between Congress and lobbying firms creates conflicts of interest. Recent scandals offer telling examples:
- Copley News Service reported that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) steered hundreds of millions in federal funds to clients of lobbyist Bill Lowery, a former congressman and friend who served with Lewis on the Appropriations Committee until 1993. The friends have exchanged two key staff members, "making their offices so intermingled that they seem to be extensions of each other." Lowery, the partners at his firm, and their clients have donated 37 percent of the $1.3 million that Lewis' political action committee received in the past six years. In 2003, Lowery's firm hired Letitia White, an appropriations associate from Rep. Lewis's office.
- In November 2005, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) resigned from Congress and pled guilty to conspiring to take $2.4 million in bribes from two defense contractors who received earmarks through his legislative efforts. One of the defense companies was also a Lowery client. Federal investigators are also investigating whether the contractors supplied Cunningham, other members of Congress, or their staffs with prostitutes, as well as free limousine and hotel suites.
- Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) told The Washington Post that he helped steer $37 million in defense funding to PerfectWave Technologies LLC. The company helped raise at least $85,000 for Doolittle and his leadership political action committee from 2002 to 2005. The director of the company, Brent Wilkes, is the top co-conspirator in criminal charges brought against former Rep. Cunningham.
- In December 2005, Roll Call detailed how Rep. Allan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) received campaign contributions from companies that won contracts based on earmarks he helped secure. One contributor was MZM, Inc. The company's former owner, Mitchell Wade, pled guilty to bribing ex-Rep. Cunningham. Says Rep. Mollohan, "All I care about is supporting companies and [federal] programs that companies are doing in my Congressional district."
The New York Times, using figures from CAGW's Pig Book, reported how Rep. Mollohan directed $250 million since 1995 to five nonprofit organizations that he set up. To run the "plush" organizations, Rep. Mollohan recruited friends and former aides who in turn contributed to his political campaigns and family foundation. On April 21, Mollohan resigned from his post as senior Democrat on the House Ethics Committee following allegations that he fibbed on his financial disclosure forms. The FBI is investigating whether a spike in Rep. Mollohan's personal fortune had any connection to earmarks that he secured.
In February 2006, USA Today revealed that Sen. Arlen Specter directed 13 earmarks worth $48.7 million to clients of the husband of one of his top aides. The Department of Defense earmarks went to six clients represented by lobbyist Michael Herson and the firm he co-founded, American Defense International. The article noted:
Herson's wife, Vicki Siegel Herson, is Specter's legislative assistant for appropriations. She deals with Specter's work on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee, where all the earmarks originated. Siegel, who uses her maiden name at work, is a former lobbyist for defense contractors who has worked for Specter since 1999.
The six clients paid Michael Herson's firm nearly $1.5 million in fees since 2002.
- Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty in January 2006 to four felonies involving wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud his clients, schemes to corrupt public officials, and tax evasion. Abramoff once described the Appropriations Committees as "earmark favor factories." His associate, Tony Rudy, who pled guilty in March 2006 to conspiring to corrupt public officials and defraud clients, once e-mailed Abramoff asking if an Indian tribe client could pay for a hunting trip for Congressional staffers as a "thank you . . . for the approps we got."
- In December 2003, an investigation by The Los Angeles Times revealed how then-Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) made millions of dollars from investments with businessmen who received government contracts and other favors through his legislative efforts. As documented in CAGW's Pig Book, Sen. Stevens has helped bring home more than $3.3 billion in pork since 1999, and Alaska has ranked No. 1 in pork-per-capita since 2000.
- Before public outrage forced congressional leaders to strike the earmark, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was a vocal supporter of the $223 million "Bridge to Nowhere." The bridge would have connected Ketchikan, Alaska to Gravina Island with a population of 50. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported how Sen. Murkowski's family owned property on the island valued at $224,600 a number that will surely increase if the bridge ever gets built. The cost estimate for the bridge was recently raised to $395 million.
- In the fiscal 2004 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) added $50 million in conference for an indoor rainforest in Coralville, Iowa. The project was the brainchild of Des Moines millionaire Ted Townsend (heir to the Townsend meat-packing fortune). To obtain federal funding for the project, Townsend's nonprofit group hired John W. Conrad III, an Iowa native and former "special assistant" to Sen. Grassley. Mr. Conrad received $69,500 to lobby his former boss to earmark funds for the project. The Iowa rainforest has become one of the biggest pork boondoggles in recent memory. The nonprofit has failed to raise a dime of private funding to begin work on the estimated $150 million project, which is now being shopped around to other cities in Iowa.
- Before losing his 2006 re-election bid, former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) used his position as the second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee to allocate close to $1 million in consulting contracts to European energy companies represented by his daughter's lobbying firm. An investigation by the Justice Department led to the congressman's and his daughter's home and office being searched by federal agents. He also supported AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defense contractor Finmeccanica, in its successful bid to secure a $1.7 billion contract to manufacture (in partnership with Lockheed Martin) the next presidential helicopter. The subsidiary subsequently hired another of the congressman's daughters, Kim Weldon. Oto Melara, a second Finmeccanica subsidiary, hired Cecelia Grimes, a self-proclaimed personal friend of Rep. Weldon, paying her a salary of $60,000 despite her complete lack of experience. Employees of the American subsidiaries of Finmeccanica donated $27,300 to the representative's 2006 re-election campaign.
- Despite the Pentagon wanting to abandon the project since 2001, House Appropriations Committee member Jim Moran (D-Va.) used earmarks to keep "Project M" alive through fiscal 2005. Created by Vibration & Sound Solutions Ltd. (VSSL), a small defense contractor in Moran's district, Project M's purpose changed over the years but failed to deliver anything useful for the Navy. Rep. Moran said the company's jobs were vital for his region. Yet, as reported by The Washington Post, VSSL employs only about 25 people. VSSL's President and his wife have donated $17,000 to Moran's campaigns over the years. On June 9, 2006 at the Arlington County Democratic Committee's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, Rep. Moran proclaimed to the audience, "When I become chairman [of a House appropriations subcommittee], I'm going to earmark the s*it out of it." Thankfully, he did not become a subcommittee chairman in the 110th Congress.
- The Small Biz Tech Political Action Committee paid $42,000 to Julia Willis-Leon, stepdaughter of Rep. Jerry Lewis. The PAC is led by Nicholas Karangelen, founder and president of Trident Systems Inc., a defense contractor that received at least $11.7 million in earmarked funds in bills presided over by Lewis' committee. Almost one-third of the $115,350 the PAC has reported raising was given to Lewis' stepdaughter.
- The New York Sun linked $123 million worth of earmarks championed by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer (both D-N.Y.) to the senators' campaign contributors.
Why Pork is Bad
Pork-barrel spending is a form of corruption, where tax dollars are dolled out on the basis of political favoritism and to advance the careers of Washington insiders rather than on the merit of individual projects. Waste and abuse have proliferated in the absence of transparency, accountability, and a competitive process.
Pork awards special interests at the expense of taxpayers.
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Even with the backing of all three presidential candidates, Senate old-timers in both parties decisively killed a proposed one-year ban on lawmakers' home-state pet projects.
The 71-29 vote Thursday night against the earmark moratorium came as Congress pressed ahead with a budget plan that would saddle millions of Americans with higher tax bills in three years by allowing some of President Bush's tax cuts to die after he leaves office.
The House passed a $3 trillion federal budget plan that would provide generous increases to domestic programs but bring the government's ledger back into the black by letting all of Bush's tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 as scheduled.
The Senate endorsed extending $340 billion of Bush's tax cuts but balked continuing all of them.
All three major presidential candidates interrupted their campaigns to cast votes on the budget plan, which is nonbinding but highlights the difficult choices on taxes and spending facing the next president and Congress. Binding votes on the expiring Bush tax cuts will be left to his successor and the Congress that's elected in November.
The practice of inserting "earmarked" spending into legislation is seen as a birthright by lawmakers in both parties - and a right under the power of the purse awarded to Congress by the Founding Fathers.
Earmarks have exploded in number and cost in recent years, accompanied by charges of abuse and public outrage over egregious examples like the proposed "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska, which would have cost more than $200 million to serve an island with a population of about 50.
"This may be the last bastion in American where they don't get it. Americans are sick and tired of the way we do business in Washington," McCain told reporters afterward. "As president, I promise the American people ... the first earmarked, pork-barrel bill that comes across my desk, I'll veto it."
The five-year budget plan passed the House on a 212-207 vote, with Republicans unanimously opposing it over what they argued was $683 billion in tax increases.
In the Senate, McCain, R-Ariz., voted to extend the full roster of tax cuts, which he opposed seven years ago as being tilted in favor of the wealthy.
Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois both voted to extend some of Bush's tax cuts. But they joined other Democrats in a 52-47 vote against extending $376 billion of them.
Republicans hope to use the votes as fodder for the heated presidential campaign and for congressional races. Lawmakers in both parties also were put on record for when the tax cuts actually expire in three years.
Said Republican Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana, "Democrats are quietly but very assuredly paving the way for a massive, economy-choking, tax increase."
Democrats said the plans would reverse years of deficits that have piled up during Bush's tenure. They said he squandered trillions of dollars in projected surpluses that were projected when he took office.
"The Democratic budget continues to move our nation in a new direction and to clean up the fiscal train wreck caused by failed Republican economic policies over the last seven years," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
On the subject of tax cuts, Democrats in the House defeated a GOP plan that would have extended Bush's reductions - and went further by eliminating the alternative minimum tax, which was originally designed years ago to make sure rich people pay at least some tax but now threatens more than 20 million additional taxpayers with increases averaging $2,000.
Some 38 mostly moderate Republicans voted against their party's plan, which would have made cuts in popular programs like Medicare, housing, community development and the Medicaid health care program.
Congress' annual budget debate involves a nonbinding resolution that sets the stage for later bills affecting taxes, benefit programs such as Medicare, and the annual appropriations bills. Unless such follow-up legislation is passed, however, the budget debate has little real effect and is mostly about making statements about party priorities.
This is such a year. Congress rarely tackles difficult budget issues as elections loom, and a standoff with Bush means that Democrats may even take a pass on advancing the 12 annual appropriations bills.
The first year of an administration is typically when heavy lifting on the budget is done, but all the candidates' campaign plans seem to promise more than they can deliver. McCain's tax cuts would require applying a meat cleaver to spending, while the Democrats promise spending that would enlarge the deficit or require too-large tax increases.
The White House forecasts the deficit for the current year at $410 billion, a near record.
Democrats trumpeted their plan for putting the budget back in balance while also making investments in infrastructure, education, community development, clean energy and other programs. It also would avoid $196 billion worth of Bush-proposed cuts to Medicare and the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.
The bills are H. Con. Res. 312 and S. Con. Res. 70.
"A rigid economy of the public contributions and absolute interdiction of all useless expenses will go far towards keeping the government honest and unoppressive."
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Lafayette, 1823