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November 11, 2006
Pork Queen?

Scott Lindlaw at the AP provides an analysis of what Nancy Pelosi's speakership will mean to the San Francisco area and to California as a whole once she takes the gavel. Lindlaw notes the financial benefits other areas have received when their Representative becomes Speaker of the House, and notes that Pelosi has hardly made pork a stranger in the past:

Tip O'Neill secured down payments for Boston's Big Dig. Sam Rayburn sent gushers of cash back to Texas, along with tax breaks that helped its oil industry. Hospitals, schools and nonprofits in Dennis Hastert's hometown of Aurora, Ill., have seen millions roll in during his reign. Now Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco is poised to follow them as speaker of the House — a perch predecessors used to channel big cash to pet projects back home.

"There's a long tradition where not only can you bring back your average pork as a member of Congress, but speaker pork gives you a lot of money, a lot of influence over the purse," said Julian E. Zelizer, a congressional historian at Boston University.

Pelosi, a Democrat, will be the first Californian to hold the post, and congressional watchdogs say they'll be observing her new spending clout with great interest.

There are "a lot of peeping chicks everywhere," said Tim Ransdell, executive director of the California Institute for Federal Policy Research in Washington, D.C. "And implicitly the House speaker has a nice war chest to start with."

Hastert was no prize on that score, either. Hastert's land deal did more than benefit his constituents; it also benefitted Hastert, making him a target for the kind of government reform that the Republicans supposedly demanded in 1994. Now Pelosi has her shot at the till. Will she follow the tradition?

If past history is any guide, yes. Lindlaw points out that as a member of the minority, she has already sent millions back to the Bay Area over the last two years. This has come in the form of grants to such pressing federal problems as a dental clinic in the Presidio, a maritime park, and a Filipino cultural center, totalling $9 million. Overall, Congress sent $204 billion to California in grants in 2004 alone.

Pelosi's efforts in grants doesn't rank her among the top 50 Representatives in the FedSpending database, even with all that largesse spent on California. However, her efforts for federal contractors puts her #3 on the pork parade, according to the OMB Watch/Sunlight Foundation joint project. Contractors in Pelosi's district got $8.7 billion over the last two years; only James Moran and Frank Wolf brought more money to their home districts. The recipients include some interesting deals:

* A consulting firm, Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, won a little over $4 million for architect and management engineering work -- 75% of which was non-competed.

* The Carlyle Group, a firm the Left associates with strange Bush-Saudi conspiracy theories, got $2.7 billion for work in Pelosi's district alone, 85% of which was non-competed.

* HOK Group, which received $11 million for more architectural work, 86% of which was non-competed.

One gets the impression that Pelosi has used her influence to ensure that the federal government spends its cash in the city by the Bay. As Speaker, she will have a great deal more influence on federal contracting and grant awards. We will have to watch vigilantly to ensure that this Speaker does not use her office in the same manner as her predecessors.

UPDATE: Two important posts have appeared today on this topic. Liberal Goodman sends us this from TPM Muckraker, a liberal blog that has done excellent work on pork issues. Justin Rood takes a look at the new Democratic leadership in the House, and doesn't see much of an improvement on corruption issues:

The Democrats swept into the majority in Congress vowing to fight the culture of corruption. Bad news for the muckraking biz, right? Thankfully, less-than-squeaky pasts don't appear to be a factor in the Dems' reasoning as they divvy up leadership posts and committee chairs.

Be sure to read Justin's review of these new chairs, which include Alan Mollohan, Alcee Hastings, and John Murtha. After that, go to Big Lizards and check out Dafydd ab Hugh's look at Nancy Pelosi's less-than-comprehensive attack on pork:

Now, we assume the lobbyists (and the special interests they represent) aren't the generous sort. They're not giving away bucks and perks for free! So what do they get in return? What would be so valuable to a corporation, say, that they would be willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars of squeeze to get it?

The payback, of course, is in government expenditures inserted into public bills which go to private corporations for purely private purposes. In a word, earmarks.

Where, Mrs. P., in that laundry list of anti-corruption measures, is the ban on earmarks?

Earmarks provide an avenue of quid pro quo for legislators to repay lobbyists and special interests for their "kindnesses", which is why we insisted on the new federal budget database listing all contracts and grants by agencies of the executive branch. We need the same kind of legislation when it comes to Congress' own expenditures, but the woman who ran against the "culture of corruption" has so far refused to support such an initiative.

Both the Left and Right have tired of earmark payoffs. Pelosi ignores that at her own peril.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 11, 2006 7:26 AM

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