Spending behind closed doors

Something new is happening today as The Examiner invites readers to help uncover which members of Congress sponsored the 1,867 secret spending earmarks worth more than $500 million in the Labor Department and Health and Human Services appropriation bill now before Congress. These earmarks average more than $268,000 each. To our knowledge, The Examiner is the first daily newspaper to join with readers, citizen activists from across the political spectrum and bloggers in this manner.

The Examiner — in cooperation with the Sunlight Foundation, Porkbusters.org and Citizens Against Government Waste — is making the Labor-HHS earmarks database public. You can see all of the Labor-HHS earmarks at www.examiner.com/earmarks. Organizations like The Heritage Foundation, National Taxpayers Union and Club for Growth blog are linking to the database. The database was obtained from a congressional source and has been checked and double-checked. Congress may still modify the bill, approve it as is or rejectit. You can download the database or copy the earmarks for your state or city.

Earmarks are spending orders inserted in pending legislation by individual members of Congress. Politicians create earmarks behind closed doors as House and Senate committees draft the 13 separate annual spending bills that fund the federal government. The secrecy lets members insert earmarks that may help favored campaign donors, other political friends and associates or even themselves without, until now, having to justify the earmark to taxpayers. No wonder disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff called Congress the “favor factory.”

Congress is out of control with earmarks, as the number has skyrocketed from 4,126 worth $29.6 billion in 1999 to 15,887 worth nearly $50 billion last year, according to the Congressional Research Service. But change is in the air as the public learns more about about scandalous earmarks such as the $320 million “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska and the $700 million “Railroad to Nowhere” in Mississippi. Measures requiring members to put their names with their earmarks have been proposed in Congress but have made little progress.

Check out the earmarks for your state by going to www.examiner.com/earmarks, and then call your representative and ask if he or she sponsored any of your state’s earmarks. If the answer is yes, ask why the representative’s name isn’t on the earmark. If you recognize the institution designated to receive the tax dollars, call them and ask what they intend to do with your money.

Then use the info@examiner.com e-mail address to tell The Examiner what you found out (be sure and put “Earmarks” in your subject line). Examiner reporters will be asking questions on Capitol Hill about many of these earmarks in coming days, and we’re confident many if not all of the congressional sponsors of these 1,867 earmarks will eventually be identified. Then we’ll all be better off because, as Abe Lincoln said, “When the American people have all the facts, they know what to do.”

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