Look closely at Capitol Hill today and you will see a crumbling fortress manned by a motley collection of old bulls and eager young back benchers, most of whom seem blindly determined to fight for the last earmarked tax dollar. But the citizenry is up in arms, making increasingly fervent demands that the pols stop their secret shenanigans and let the sun shine in. The list of grievances about earmarks keeps growing longer.
Defenders claim they use a fair process to apportion such spending projects. Yet, as The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl notes, of the 246 earmarks in the House Interior/Environment appropriations bill, 113, or 46 percent, went to the 66 members of the Appropriations Committee, who represent a mere 15 percent of the total House membership.
One of those Interior/Environment earmarks, according to Americans for Prosperity, was sponsored by Rep. Chaka Fatah, D-Pa., for $100,000 to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Fatah’s wife is a member of the museum’s board of trustees.
Another Interior/Environment earmark, this one sponsored by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., for $500,000, would finance “neighborhood improvements” for the Barracks Row area of residential Capitol Hill. Lewis owns a house already valued at nearly $1 million within a few blocks of the neighborhood. Lewis admitted during floor debate he wants to turn Barracks Row into a “Georgetown on Capitol Hill.” Guess who else owns a home (valued at $737,360) there? Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., who vigorously defended Lewis during House debate this week.
A Roll Call investigation found multiple contracts awarded as a result of earmarks sponsored by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. Many of the companies getting those contracts are or were clients of KSA, a lobbying firm that employs a former Murtha staffer and formerly employed Murtha’s brother.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. D-Ill., sponsored a $231,000 earmark in the Financial Services appropriations bill. The Jackson earmark is designated for the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission. Never heard of that airport? That’s because it doesn’t exist. The commission’s executive director is also a member of Jackson’s congressional staff.
What is especially distressing is that these are only a handful of the more than 32,000 earmarks House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., says his panel has received in recent months from members of the House from both parties. Obviously, Congress didn’t get the message last November, which may explain why its approval rating now stands at 14 percent.