We thought maybe we were doing something wrong last week when we called each member of California’s congressional delegation and asked if they had or would sign a pledge to make public all of their earmark requests. Earmarks are anonymous directions congressmen insert into bills or bill reports to give federal dollars to favored recipients. The pledge was circulated by three advocacy groups, including one with San Francisco roots, the Sunlight Foundation.
Almost none of the members we contacted even responded to our query. Little did we know that CNN was at nearly the same time conducting a similar survey of all 435 House members. Ted Turner’s trail-blazing cable news network hardly did any better than we did in getting answers — the vast majority of House members, including 38 of California’s53-member delegation, either didn’t respond or promised to but didn’t.
Interestingly, our results closely tracked CNN. Besides the 329 House members who didn’t respond or promised to but didn’t, only 31 provided a list of earmarks they have requested this year. More significantly, 68 flat out refused to provide a list. Among California representatives, six, including five GOPers and one Democrat, provided the list. Nine, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, refused. Also refusing was Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is seeking the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Unlike CNN, we also asked California’s two senators, but neither Sen. Barbara Boxer nor Sen. Dianne Feinstein responded to our requests.
Evidently, most of California’s congressional representatives still haven’t gotten the message from taxpayers about earmarks. Ever since we first learned of the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, a determined coalition of bloggers spanning the ideological spectrum — most notably the Porkbusters — have kept up the pressure for earmark reform by Congress. Congress approved nearly $30 billion in earmarks last year and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey says his panel has received more than 32,000 earmark requests so far this year.
At the very least, all earmarks should be made public, with the name of the sponsoring congressman, the amount of tax dollars to be spent and the names of all recipients. It is shocking that so many of California’s congressmen refuse to provide even this rudimentary information about how they are spending our tax dollars. Clearly, the time has come to retire a bunch of the people we sent to Washington because they’ve forgotten they are there to represent us, not themselves and their buddies.