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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Citizen Journalism Project Aims to Expose Congressional Authors of 1,800+ Secret Earmarks

An unprecedented coalition of media, citizens activism groups spanning the ideological spectrum and bloggers today unveiled a database of more than secret 1,800 earmarks contained in the Labor-HHS Appropriation bill now before Congress and invited the public to help uncover the identities of the individual congressmen behind each earmark.

The unusual coalition includes The Examiner Newspapers' Examiner.com web site and its dailies in Baltimore, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the Sunlight Foundation, Porkbusters.org, Citizens Against Government Waste and Human Events Online. Also participating are the Club for Growth, The Heritage Foundation, the National Taxpayers Union, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com, Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters blog, Tim Chapman of Heritage, Mary Katharine Ham of Townhall.com blog and Tapscott's Copy Desk.

The purpose of the coalition's project is quite simply to join with the public in an investigation into the identities of the Members of Congress who inserted the earmarks in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill now pending before the House. A Senate version is also in the works and will likely include additional earmarks.

Congress typically considers 13 appropriations bills each year in order to fund the legions of federal departments, agencies, commissions and panels, though in recent years, a continuing resolution has often become the substitute when Members were unable to agree on the regular legislation.

The 1,800+ earmarks in the House bill are worth more than $502 million and average more than $268,000 each. There are multiple earmarks for every state, plus Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Every earmark was inserted anonymously during the House Appropriations Committee deliberations.

The coalition obtained from a congressional source a copy of the bill manager's amendments containing the earmarks. Members of the coalition then worked collaboratively to assemble all of the earmarks in a searchable database and are now encouraging members and readers to join the investigation as citizen journalists.

I believe this is the first-ever such citizen journalism project and it certainly is among the largest-ever efforts in the Blogosphere to focus the power of viral networking - aka called by James Suroweicki as "The Wisdom of Crowds" - in a demonstration of individual empowerment that Reynolds describes in his book, "An Army of Davids." The emergence of such citizen journalism projects was predicted years ago by Dan Gillmor in his book "We the Media."

Here's what The Examiner is asking its readers to do:

"Check out the earmarks for your state and then call your congressman and ask if he or she sponsored any of your state’s earmarks. If the answer is yes, ask why the congressman’s name isn’t on the earmark. If you recognize the institution designated to receive the earmarked tax dollars, call them and ask them what they intend to do with your money."

But the Examiner is also asking readers to share what they hear from their congressman by emailing the newspaper and notes that its own reporters will also be looking into the earmarks, seeking evidence for, among other things, abuses of the earmarks process such as directing federal funds to campaign donors:

"Then use info@examiner.com. to tell The Examiner what you found out (Be sure to put “Earmarks” in your subject line.) Examiner reporters will be asking questions on Capitol Hill about many of these earmarks in coming days and we’re confident many if not all of the congressional sponsors of these 1,867 earmarks will eventually be identified."

The result, according to the Examiner will be something that would make Honest Abe smile - the American people will have ALL the facts about these earmarks and will then be able to make informed decisions about whether their tax dollars should be spent by the Washington politicians in that way.

UPDATE: Blogs linking to the Earmarks Project

The Free State Foundation blog
Riehl World View
Center for Citizen Media blog