Saturday, February 23, 2008

Stick It In Your Earmark

Bill Moyer Journal and Expose, America’s Investigative Reports, hammered Democratic Senator Patty Murray, Representative Norm Dicks and Brian Baird on the Friday evening show in a documentary aimed at the abuse and the lack of transparency involved with the practice of using congressional earmarks.

Both Murray, Dicks and Baird's screw-ups were brought to light by local investigative reporters who revealed that millions of dollars in earmarks given to state businesses, for such things as coast guard patrol boats and helmet mounted battlefield computer displays, ended up being unusable for the purpose for which they were originally intended.

The disturbing thing about the story is that Murray, Dicks and Baird have also received campaign contributions for the various companies who got the earmark money and produced the useless or damaged goods.
“The report focuses on how earmarks for some products were added to the defense appropriations bill even in cases in which the military didn't want them in the first place. They end up selling a product to the military that they're not even using."
John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee may have trouble with his dealings with too may lobbyists but he also has made eliminating earmarks one of the main themes of his stump speech rhetoric. McCain claims to have never used an earmark as a elected official and has stated, if elected president, he will veto any bills that contain them.

As a Democrat I don’t think that earmarks are necessarily a bad thing. Most earmarks provide money, I think it can be shown, for what are very worthwhile projects. The problem is that most earmarks are added off the record and in the dark which opens up the likelihood of waste, corruption and abuse.

They are added in conference committee reports or by direct request from a member of congress and they often give the appearance of a "you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours" deal or arrangement. The receiving entity gets the government money and the politician gets a contribution. Earmarks are ripe for accusations of influence peddling, corruption or even bribery. Especially when campaign contributions are made to the ear marker by the entities who end up received the money, often sums in the millions, for their pet project and/or some would argue boondoggles.

Barak Obama as the nominee of the Democratic Party will probably be in a better position to defend against any McCain attacks on abuse of earmarks. The reason is Obama has worked hard to get the members of congress to disclose earmarks, as he has done, in a attempt to improve overall government transparency.
“Obama's criticism of Washington's insider culture is a linchpin of his campaign; he supports earmarks only for public entities such as schools and hospitals. He secured $3.3 million in earmarks through his own sponsorship, and collected $88 million in concert with other Illinois lawmakers.”
Hillary Clinton is near the top of the list when it comes to earmarks. McCain has been mocking Clinton on the campaign trail about a million-dollar earmark to build a museum at Woodstock, New York that would commemorate the rock festival that took place there in 1968. The press has a field day reporting on expensive studies aimed at the life cycle of hibernating squirrels or how rats procreate. These media reports leave one with the distinct feeling that millions of dollars are being wasted on worthless projects.
“Clinton helped secure more than $340 million worth of home-state projects in last year's spending bills, placing her among the top 10 Senate recipients of what are commonly known as earmarks, according to a new study by a nonpartisan budget watchdog group.”
The problem seems to be that at the very least the practice of earmarking should come out into the light. Members of congress should be required to disclose earmarks so that constituents can see where the money is being spent. Voters could then make the connection between the contributions a elected official is receiving and the earmark.

Under a transparent system elected official would probably be less likely to request earmarks for frivolous or boondoggle projects and voters could more closely examine the influence money has on the actions of their representatives.

Senator Murray, Representative Dicks and Baird owe us all a full explanation why they were not more diligent when it came to spending our money. They also owe us a explanation of what part, if any, contributions played in the debacle exposed on Moyer's show.

But, I suspect that there's probably a snowflake's chance in hell they will make the effort to do so unless someone forces the issue. The least they can do is work to offer changes in the law that would open the practice up to the full scrutiny or the voters and the press. So we the people can. if we choose, connect the dots if necessary in the future when it comes to the use of congressional earmarks.

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