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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Key Senate Aide Describes Pork Links to Lobbying, Corrupts Votes in Congress

Sean Davis, a key aide to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, who has been active in the battle against wasteful federal spending, offers these thoughts on the extent to which pork barrel projects corrupt the work of Congress:

Given all of the attention paid to corruption and the lobbying scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff, I thought you might also be interested in some thoughts on the corrupting influence of pork barrel spending.

I have also included a list of notable quotes and news articles about the corrupting influence of pork.

Pork projects, sometimes referred to as earmarks, are wasteful spending projects that are directly requested by Members of Congress and are not subject to competitive bidding requirements.

One of the most well-known examples of these projects is the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska. However, congressional spending bills are littered with these types of projects. According to Citzens Against Government Waste, a government watchdog that tracks federal spending, the number of pork projects in 2005 totaled nearly 14,000 at a cost of more than $27 billion, up from 1,439 projects in 1995.

Thus, in only 10 years, the number of wasteful pork projects increased by 970 percent!

When President Ronald Reagan vetoed a spending bill in 1997 because it contained 121 earmarks, he remarked, "I haven't seen this much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair."

Congress has turned into an all-you-can-eat pork buffet and American taxpayers are left to pay the bill and clean up the mess.

The problem with pork, however, is not just its size. The entire earmarking process corrupts congressional decision-making and erodes the confidence of the American public. To give you a recent example, last June Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, offered a series of amendments to strike entirely unnecessary pork projects from a spending bill to fund the departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development.

Specifically, Senator Coburn questioned the propriety of spending taxpayer dollars on a parking garage in Nebraska and a sculpture park in Washington. Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, who is also the highest ranking Democrat on the relevant appropriations subcommittee, took to the Senate floor and threatened those who were inclined to eliminate her sculpture park.

"What is good for the goose is good for the gander," she said. "And I tell my colleagues, if we start cutting funding for individual projects, your project may be next." Her threat apparently worked, as Senator Coburn's amendment was defeated by a vote of 86 to 13.

At times, however, Senators never even have the option or ability to vote for or against specific earmarks. In a practice that has become all too common, brand new earmarks and pork projects that were never voted on or considered are often added in a conference report, long after a bill has passed each chamber of Congress and Senators never have the chance to strike the new projects.

To make matters worse, it is not uncommon for Senators to have mere minutes to read a spending bill that may be hundreds of pages long and chock full of pork.

The effect of this process is that high-paid lobbyists who get their project requests inserted at the last minute end up with more power than those who are actually elected to be caretakers of taxpayer dollars.

John Fund wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Jack Abramoff "bragged that appropriations committees were ‘earmark favor factories." Relatives of elected officials even benefit from their proximity to power.

The wife of [former senator] Tom Daschle was an airline lobbyist while he was Senate Majority Leader, the sons of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, work as lobbyists in Nevada, and the son of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, (a senior member of the Senate appropriations committee) is the chairman of an Alaskan marketing organization that received $500,000 in federal appropriations to paint a salmon on a Boeing 737.

The Los Angeles Times reported in June 2003 that "at least 17 senators and 11 members of the House have family members who lobby or work as consultants on government relations, most in Washington and often for clients who rely on the related lawmakers' goodwill."

Todd Purdum, a former reporter for The New York Times, recently wrote that the lobbying problem is "broader than Mr. Abramoff" and added that "it also has to do with the astounding growth of the lobbying industry, a growth that has tracked the growth of the federal government itself."

Rep. Martin Meehan, D-MA, quoted later in Mr. Purdum’s article, added, "The scandal here is not that the rules were broken; the scandal is the rules themselves."

When a government spends $2.6 trillion a year, inserts itself into nearly every facet of daily life, and few rules exist to effectively curb (or even illuminate) untoward behavior, should the current lobbying scandal surprise anyone?

Lobbyists can get questionable earmarks inserted into bills at the last minute and elected Members of Congress have no ability to amend or strike the earmarks. Through earmarking, Members of Congress have the ability to steer taxpayer money to whomever and whatever they wish regardless of the merits.

But shouldn't elected officials also have the ability to strike wasteful earmarks that are added to conference reports under the cloak of night? Shouldn't Members of Congress have more than a few hours to review legislation that spends hundreds of billions of dollars?

Shouldn't taxpayers know which Members of Congress inserted which earmarks into federal appropriations bills?

As they say, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

These articles are recommended:

"Earmarks don't just waste money, though that's reason enough to oppose them. They also join lobbyists and lawmakers at the hip. Lobbyists have made a booming business of winning earmarks for their clients, and while the tactics they use to do so don't always cross over into Cunningham territory, sleazy, parochial influence-peddling abounds."
National Review, December 15, 2005

"Many Republicans have forgotten that as government grows, its increased power to grant favors or inflict pain attracts more people who would abuse the system."
John Fund
The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2006

"At the root of this mess is a culture of corruption built on professional campaign financing, lobbying, pork barrel spending and influence-peddling that has been practiced over the years by both parties."
John Hall
The Cincinnati Post, January 9, 2006

"Some congressional observers fear that the number and size of earmarks have become excessive in recent years, and it is increasingly narrow special interests that are benefiting most."
The Center For Public Integrity, April 7, 2005

"A former undersecretary of defense and chief financial officer at the Defense Department, Dov Zakheim, said earmarks have the potential of sending money to projects that are not necessary instead of to projects that are."
Brian McGuire
New York Sun, December 27, 2005

"... Republicans need to get a grip on earmarks. Earmarks are the provisions that single members can stick into gigantic bills to steer spending toward favored projects. They're an invitation to corruption. If individual Members of Congress can control $100-million federal contracts or billion-dollar pork-barrel projects, then companies are going to find ways to funnel graft to those members."
David Brooks
The New York Times, January 5, 2006

"But the problem is broader than Mr. Abramoff, Mr. DeLay or even the inherent potential for abuse in one-party rule of all three branches of government. It also has to do with the astounding growth of the lobbying industry, a growth that has tracked the growth of the federal government itself."
Todd S. Purdum
The New York Times, January 8, 2006

"No single Member of Congress should be able to direct tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in spending. This practice is corrupting - and budget-busting."
The Roanoke Times, January 9, 2006

"Stricter rules, more illuminating disclosure and better enforcement could ameliorate some of the seamier aspects of the mutually beneficial, mutually degrading symbiosis that characterizes the lawmaker-lobbyist relationship."
Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post, January 9, 2006


Financial Times on the conservative agenda in Congress as the Abramoff scandal unfolds:

"At the top of the conservative reform agenda is an end to the practice of earmarking, in which members can secretly insert into huge spending bills billions of dollars in projects for favoured companies or other constituents - many of whom in turn donate to the lawmakers’ re-election funds. While the practice is not new, it has mushroomed since Republicans captured Congress. Last year 15,000 earmarks were added into various spending bills."

Go here for more.

HT: Drudge