The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Congressmen Keep Pork Projects Cooking

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Despite the moratorium on all earmarks agreed to by House Republicans on March 11, 2010, and a ban on earmarks to for-profit companies adoptedby House Democrats the previous day, both sides of the aisle are finding ways to circumvent their own rules. 

Some House Republicans have simply passed off earmarks to their Senate counterparts.  In a July 2, 2010 article, the Louisville Courier-Journalreported thatearmark requests from Kentucky Reps.Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), reappeared onSen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) list.  This convenient arrangement was possible because the Senate has not passed any sort of earmark ban. 

But, according to a March 29, 2010story inthe Birmingham News, Kentucky is not alone.Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) told mayors and city and county officials lobbying for earmarks to forward their requests to Sens.Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).  Sen. Shelby is quoted in the sameBirmingham News report:“Asked if he expected his House counterparts to ask for his help in securing earmarks, Shelby said, ‘Well, they always did.’  So does the ban change anything for Alabama? ‘No, it doesn’t,’ Shelby said.”

House Democrats have also been guilty of evading the new rules on earmarks. According to a July 4, 2010New York Times article,Rep.Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) requested$10.4 million in new earmarks for the Great Lakes Research Center, a nonprofit organization formed by Victoria Kurtz.  According to the Times, the new organization, formed just one day after the House Democrats announced the moratorium, performs the same work and shares the same address as a for-profit defense contracting firm for which Ms. Kurtz serves as vice president for marketing.  Not only did Rep.Kaptur receive tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Ms. Kurtz and her company, but the Defense Department has so far refused to buy the body armor components the company is intending to sell.  Unfortunately it does not end there; the Times reported that dozens of non-profits are receiving earmarks on behalf of for-profit companies all over the country, totaling more than $150 million. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.)has faced similar accusations.  On July 5, 2010 The Huffington Post Investigative Fund published an extensive report on members of Congress using universities and nonprofits to funnel taxpayer money to businesses.  Thereport stated that since 2004, Rep. Dicks earmarked more than $20 million for a small company named IntellicheckMobilisa, whose executives havecontributed $26,000 to his campaigns.  Several weeks after the House moratorium was announced, Rep. Dicks sponsored a $6.2 million earmark for alittoral sensor grid.Thegrid is the same technology being produced by IntellicheckMobilisa, but this time the earmark isgoing tothe University of Washington (UW).  Although thenewearmarkisfor exactly the same purposeas prior ones, and UWand Intellicheck have previously been partners in developing the technology, Dicks has insistedthat all the money will go to UW.  Dicks’ spokesman did not reply when asked by The Huffington Post how the company could not be involved in deploying its own technology. 

The House Appropriation Committee claims it will block any requests that violate the restrictions, but because of the huge number of earmark requests submitted each year it is virtually impossible to verify which are truly going to non-profits.  Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told the Timesthat“No matter what they tell you, there is just no way they can police all that. They just don’t have the time or resources.”  According toThe Huffington Post’s Investigative Fund,“No comprehensive list of earmark requests exists, so it’s difficult to tell how many members of the committees or in Congress overall are still pursuing earmarks benefiting companies.”

It would be uplifting to see members of Congress putting this sort of creative scheming and problem-solving power toward solving the budget crisis and fixing the economy. Until meaningful and permanent reforms are instituted for the full House and Senate, or members begin to abide by the language and spirit of the current bans on earmarks, taxpayers will remain skeptical that business as usual has been changed in Washington.

  -- Steven Reiss

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