November 14, 2007

Earmarks: 'Everyone's Business'

The Washington Post shines some light on the efforts by porkbusters to shine their own light on earmarks in appropriations bills. Elizabeth Williamson focuses on earmarks in the recently-signed defense appropriation, and reports on the new websites that help vet the pork and its beneficiaries:

Who put a million dollars for an "Extended Cold Weather Clothing System" into the 2008 defense spending bill President Bush signed yesterday?

The item is one of thousands that can be found on, a new Web site that enlists voters' help monitoring congressional spending. The site supplies users with the tools they need to research earmarks and, creators say, "a forum for lively debate over what constitutes a worthwhile expenditure of federal funds -- which earmarks meet pressing needs, which are political favors, and which are pure pork."

It took three clicks to turn up four lawmakers behind the hand-protection earmark yesterday: Democratic Reps. Brian Baird, Norm Dicks and Jim McDermott and Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, all of Washington state. They helped a Seattle-based company called Outdoor Research win a contract for the system, otherwise known as "gloves."

Created by two prominent watchdog groups, the Sunlight Foundation and Taxpayers for Common Sense, the earmark site "walks people through the steps involved in who's behind an earmark and why, and it calls the public into the actual project research," said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Bill Allison and Steve Ellis have constructed the platform for a new revolution in citizenry. It combines with another site,, to give ordinary citizens insight into contracting, grants, earmarks, and their connections to the elected officials who direct them to supporters and donors. Combined with, people can finally track the entire cycle of potential corruption that fuels Washington DC -- and which creates the imperative for an ever-growing federal government that provides these sinecures and favoritism.

Politicians fear these initiatives, because they strike at the base of their power. Trent Lott talked disparagingly about porkbusters two years ago when challenged on his prodigious pork spending. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid talked about cleaning up the swamp, but instead passed ethics legislation that has largely been ignored, especially regarding pork airdrops in conference committee. One appropriation, the water-projects bill, expanded by more than 50% in conference, showing that as with any addict, Congress will do almost anything to maintain its supply of handy cash to give away to its favored interests.

That's how the Darn Tough Sock Company of Vermont got a million-dollar earmark from Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) to outfit Marines. Normally, procurement decisions like that would go through a competitive-bid process by the agency involved. The earmark eliminates the competitive bidding and allocates the money directly to the company. Is it the best option for quality and cost? We'll never know. That's true of all earmarks.

We need to keep the pressure on Congress to reform itself. The tools provided by Allison and Ellis, and others, will help restore accountability to our government, and in doing so, remind us all of the dangers of an overwhelming federal government that uses its tax power to buy more and more power for itself and its members. All of us should take a couple of earmarks and run their sponsors and beneficiaries out into the sunlight. At the rate that Congress has generated pork, there should be at least one earmark for everyone.

UPDATE: I wrote D-VA when I meant D-VT. Thanks to Steve Downs for the correction.


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