Congress banned earmarks in 2011, but crafty congressmen found ways to sneak nearly $5 million worth of the special interest spending projects into 2015 appropriation bills, according to a congressional watchdog.
A new report made public Sunday by Citizens Against Government Waste argues that earmarks never really went away, despite the 2011 ban, they just got harder to find.
Hundreds of earmarks – specialized spending items that benefit particular congressmen’s family members, friends or donors – were routinely included in bills before the 2011 ban, most notoriously with the $235 million Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska.
The problem is determined senators and representatives still find ways to earmark.
“Each of the appropriations bills passed since the initiation of the earmark moratorium was certified as ‘earmark-free’ according to Congress’s definitions,” CAGW said in its “All About Pork” report. “CAGW believes this claim can be challenged based on the inclusion of projects that have appeared in past appropriations bills as earmarks.
“The question for those in Congress who continue to deny the existence of earmarks in appropriations bills approved in the past six years is: Why were these projects previously considered earmarks, but not after the moratorium was established?”
Curtis Kalin, a CAGW spokesman told the Daily Caller News Foundation that “the report lifts the veil on the abuse of the appropriations process and provides a sneak peak at what the future holds for those committed taxpayers who aim to permanently ban earmarks.”
Making earmarks harder to identify also makes federal spending less transparent, according to CAGW.
“Unfortunately, the earmark moratorium has not only failed to eliminate earmarks, but has also made the process patently less transparent,” the report said. “There are no names of legislators, no list or chart of earmarks, and limited information on where and why the money will be spent. Earmarks have been scattered through the legislative and report language, requiring substantial detective work to unearth each project.”
In fact, Congress snuck $4.2 million worth of earmarks into the 2015 appropriations bill, The DCNF previously reported.
For example, “in a perfect demonstration of new earmarking,” a Federal Emergency Management Agency program called the National Predisaster Mitigation fund received a single earmark worth $25 million in 2015, CAGW’s annual Pig Book reported in May. Even though the program got 58 earmarks in 2010, it received only $400,000 less this year.
The 2015 version of the spending “simply created a pool of money to be distributed at a later date without any specific information about the eventual recipients or the member of Congress who requested the earmark.”
What hasn’t changed is why critics consider earmarks as abuses of the public interest.
“Pork-barrel spending is a form of corruption, where tax dollars are doled out on the basis of political favoritism and to advance the careers of Washington insiders rather than on the merit of individual projects.
“Earmarks create a few winners (appropriators, special interests and lobbyists) and a great many losers (taxpayers). They contribute to the deficit directly, by tacking on extra funding and indirectly, by attracting votes to costly legislation that might not otherwise pass,” CAGW said.
Regardless, some members of Congress still want them back.
“Almost as soon as the earmark moratorium began, numerous legislators from both sides of the aisle began publicly pining for the halcyon days of uncontrolled earmarking,” the report said.
For example, Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young said in a May 2014 article that he doesn’t “know what’s wrong with my party … I frankly think they had their head in the sand, when they said ‘We can’t have earmarks.'”
Similarly, Missouri Democrat Rep. Emanuel Cleaver wrote last month that “Congress used the practice of congressionally-directed spending for negotiating purposes … and to keep the legislative process moving.”
According to CAGW, they’re still doing it.
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