Earmark Disclosure: Slow but Steady | Citizens Against Government Waste

Earmark Disclosure: Slow but Steady

The WasteWatcher

“Will you disclose the earmarks that you have requested, Representative?”

It seems like a simple question, but apparently it is beyond the scope of Congress’s ability to be more accountable to taxpayers.  For the second year in a row, Citizens Against Government Waste has embarked on a mission to urge elected officials to disclose the earmarks that they have requested in all appropriations bills for fiscal year 2009.  (This effort is a collaboration with Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Sunlight Foundation.)  

Of the representatives contacted, more than 80 have disclosed their earmarks, or are in the process of doing so.  Last year, only 71 elected officials had disclosed their requests.  Meanwhile, 33 members of the House refuse to disclose anything, a precipitous drop from the 94 members who refused to disclose their fiscal year 2008 earmarks.  Progress may be slow, but a culture of disclosure is starting to take root.

It is also worthwhile to note the rise in members of Congress who have given up all of their earmarks for the upcoming fiscal year.  Last year, a scant six members refused to take any earmarks; this year, they are joined by 34 new members, including Democrats such as Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), and Republicans, such as Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), in refusing the siren’s call of pork.

Conversations with House staff were often very revealing.  For example, one staffer for Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), said, “Quite frankly, some [of the proposed earmarks] are outlandish.  Releasing them before they are apportioned is of no benefit to anybody...There are so many, across a whole spectrum.”  Others were receptive, and more than willing to assist in the hunt; still others were brusque, antagonistic, and rude, hanging up the phone.  One even yelled at a CAGW staffer, saying, “Are you kidding me?  Are you guys actually sending us this request?  Because that is OUR business, not yours!  Good-bye!”

However, the vast majority of elected officials’ offices still refuse to give an answer, a classic political tactic in hedging one’s bets.  It seems as though staffers at CAGW have been directed into more dead-end congressional voicemail boxes than there are earmarks in the bills themselves.

The battle for transparency and accountability is far from over.  CAGW will continue to fight to make elected officials accountable, and let the public know where members intend on spending taxpayers’ hard-earned money.  A complete list of House members’ responses to our request for earmark transparency is available at www.cagw.org.

Evan Lisull & Jonathan A. Slemrod

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