Those of us who rail against earmarks and pork-barrel politics argue in part that the resultant spending usually goes to functions that have nothing to do with federal authority. These usually serve as incumbency protection efforts, attempts to drown the district in enough cash that it pressures voters to retain incumbents, in order to maintain the gravy train. One might think that a more libertarian incumbent would eschew such grubby tactics -- but the Houston Chronicle's investigation into Texas earmarks proves that theory incorrect (h/t: CQ reader Kirk H):
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson, the Libertarian-leaning contender for the Republican presidential nomination, long has waged war on the widespread federal spending he views as outside constitutional boundaries.
But the congressman, who often votes against spending bills, including funds for the Iraq war, leads the Houston-area delegation in the number of earmarks, or special funding requests, that he is seeking for his district. He is trying to nab public money for 65 projects, such as marketing wild shrimp and renovating the old movie theater in Edna that closed in 1977 — neither of which is envisioned in the Constitution as an essential government function. ...
Paul defended his support of earmarks, which also include numerous water and highway projects in his Gulf Coast district, saying that, although he does not like the current budget process, he wants money returned to his district as funding is doled out nationwide.
"I don't think they should take our money in the first place," he said. "But if they take it, I think we should ask for it back."
The way it works in Paul's office is that local groups and officials from his district make pitches to him for federal funding. The congressman passes along those recommendations to the Appropriations Committee as earmark requests. Paul said he tries to treat everyone equally and rejects few requests. He said it would be unfair "for me to close the door and say this is a bunch of junk."
I missed this yesterday; Betsy Newmark didn't, and she notes the irony. Ron Paul and his legion of supporters routinely tell us that Paul is the only real conservative in the presidential race, dedicated to a return to a constitutional federal government. He will fight against federal involvement in any function outside of their clearly delineated tasks, as Paul has said on a number of occasions, including the presidential debates.
Obviously, Paul doesn't put our money where his mouth is. He uses the same tired explanation as everyone in Congress regarding earmarks -- "Everyone else is doing it, and why shouldn't my constituents benefit?" It's precisely that kind of reasoning that keeps earmarks a lively trade for influence peddlers and government expansionists, and Paul's enthusiastic engagement in that process perpetuates it.
Paul is far from the worst offender when it comes to earmarks. In fact, a fellow Republican, Jerry Culberson, wants $1 billion in earmarks for his district, a rather astonishing sum that would cost taxpayers almost a half-trillion dollars if replicated in every district, or about 13% of the overall federal budget. However, for a man who regularly expounds on unconstitutional federal intrusions, this record seems rather hypocritical.
UPDATE: Commenter Buckwheat offers this counter-argument:
In a nutshell, Paul only requests these earmarks *after* money has been set aside for a bill, so his requests don't increase the overall size of these bills. And he usually votes against them anyway.
Well, I thought Paul's entire argument as a Constitutionalist was that those monies don't belong there in the first place, and they're going to functions that don't belong at the federal level. Shouldn't he stop encouraging that kind of spending? As for the second part of the argument, it seems very hypocritical to initiate earmarks, get them included in spending bills, and then vote against the bill when Paul knows it will pass over his belated objections.
If Paul wants to end earmarks, he should stop creating them, and encourage his colleagues to do the same.